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Former unsung players emerge for Saints entering NCAA baseball tourney

St. Scholastica graduated its best three hitters from last season, but if there is one thing pitcher Matt Lewis has realized in his four years in the program, it's that the Saints know how to develop talent.

St. Scholastica graduated its best three hitters from last season, but if there is one thing pitcher Matt Lewis has realized in his four years in the program, it's that the Saints know how to develop talent.

Lewis, of Erie, Pa., never pitched in high school but will start on the mound when the Saints (35-5) play fourth-seeded Hamline (28-13) in the opening round of the NCAA Division III baseball tournament at 4 p.m. today in Whitewater, Wis.

Lewis, the nephew of former St. Scholastica vice president of enrollment Brian Dalton, played third base in high school but has gradually become a dominating college hurler and a Saints' captain. He is 9-1 this season with a 1.78 ERA, with 56 strikeouts and 25 walks in 65.2 innings.

"Matt's first two years with us he was still trying to learn the craft, becoming more of a pitcher than just a thrower," St. Scholastica coach Corey Kemp said. "You can give the coaches a portion of the credit, but most of it has to go to the guys who put in the effort to get better, and this year's team is a great example of that."

Offensively, junior catcher Kyle Moody (.462 BA, 47 RBIs), sophomore outfielder Kyle Flagstad (.435 BA, 35 RBIs) and junior outfielder/first baseman Brandon Peterson (.412 BA, 43 RBIs) have helped the Saints average 9.6 runs per game, second-best in Division III.

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Flagstad had all of nine at bats in 2010.

"A lot of people asked me, 'How are you going to score runs this year?' But those three have done as well if not better than the three we had in those same spots last year," Kemp said. "It's all about guys taking advantage of their opportunities. That's what we preach a lot. We'll give you the opportunity, and you take advantage of it and make it so that we can't take you out of the lineup."

Joe Link, meanwhile, is batting .371 with a team-best 51 runs and an incredible 41-for-41 on his stolen base attempts. St. Scholastica's .350 team batting average ranks fourth nationally.

Lewis is joined on the mound by the likes of sophomore David Vogelgesang (8-0, 4.50 ERA), sophomore Kyle Jensen (3-2, 1.93 ERA) and emerging freshman Andy Davis (2-1, 0.82 ERA)

Lewis, who pitched for the St. Cloud River Bats of the Northwoods League last summer, was clocked as high as 91 mph, perhaps higher, last weekend at Wade Stadium in leading the Saints' to their 15th straight Upper Midwest Athletic Conference tournament championship.

St. Scholastica, which will be going for its first regional title in its seventh appearance, swept fellow regional qualifier St. Thomas during the regular season while splitting with Wisconsin-Whitewater.

"I've been on more talented teams, but mentally, this is a really confident team," Lewis said. "We just have the confidence that we know we can do it this year in the regional. We've had some great games against some really tough opponents this season, and that has really helped prepare us for what we'll see this week."

Related Topics: BASEBALL
Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at jnowacki@duluthnews.com or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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