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Saints' season comes to a close

The St. Scholastica baseball team has played in nine straight NCAA Division III tournaments and been among the final three teams in the regional each of the past three years, but earning the program's first College World Series berth has proven e...

The St. Scholastica baseball team has played in nine straight NCAA Division III tournaments and been among the final three teams in the regional each of the past three years, but earning the program's first College World Series berth has proven elusive.

Wisconsin-Stevens Point dashed the Saints' hopes Friday night, eliminating St. Scholastica with an 8-2 victory before 352 spectators at Prucha Field in Whitewater, Wis.

St. Scholastica was within a run, at 2-1, going into the seventh inning before its pitching, which had been stellar all weekend, finally gave out.

"This really wasn't an 8-2 game. It felt close even into the eighth and ninth innings, when we got runners on base," St. Scholastica coach Corey Kemp said by phone. "Even though the score was 8-2, it felt like we were just a hit or two from making the game a lot closer, and a big part of that was the way Jordan Risse pitched."

Risse (1-3), a freshman from Sioux Falls, S.D., allowed three earns runs on five hits in 6 1/3 innings. Risse wasn't helped by four errors in the field for the Saints.

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"For a freshman to pitch the way he did was very impressive," Kemp said. "I don't know if Jordan pitched more than 10 innings for us all year, and here he went out and threw six strong innings in an elimination game of the regional tournament, with our season on the line. That's not very easy, but people who were there would not know that was a freshman on the mound for us. He carried himself like he was a senior and had been doing this for four years. The future is very bright for him."

Stevens Point freshman Ben Messenger (5-1) was even more impressive, allowing just two runs on six hits in 7 2/3 innings, with four strikeouts.

The Pointers (38-9) advance to play Case Western (29-13) at noon today for the championship, with an if-necessary game to follow. Stevens Point, ranked No. 16 in NCAA Division III, is the last remaining undefeated team in the double-elimination regional.

Outfielder Jimmy Coady had four hits, two runs and three RBIs to lead Stevens Point, while Kyle Flagstad and Andy Schwantes each had two hits and an RBI for St. Scholastica.

"For us to allow six runs in the last couple innings was a little deflating," Kemp said.

St. Scholastica (29-11) finished tournament play 2-2, coming two victories shy of their first regional championship. The Saints generally received good pitching and defense but managed just a combined seven runs in four tournament games.

"Offensively we didn't perform as well as we should have, but we also saw some really good pitching," Kemp said. "The fact we scored seven runs in four games and still won two of them says a lot about our pitching this weekend. We just ran out of magic."

Still, it was a solid tournament for the Saints, who already had beaten the No. 2- and No. 5-ranked teams in the nation in St. Thomas and Whitewater before running into Point.

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The Saints graduate 15 seniors, but return most of their pitching for next season.

"We no longer go home after the first two games of these tournaments, and that's a testament to the standard our seniors have set," Kemp said. "We're just not happy getting to an NCAA tournament. We're going to play deep into these tournaments with a chance to fight for a trip to the College World Series. We just came in a little bit short, but I'm excited to make another run at this thing next year."

ST. SCHOLASTICA 3, WISCONSIN-WHITEWATER 2

Parker Olson's sacrifice fly scored sophomore Jesse Heaton with the winning running in the bottom of the 10th inning as the Saints opened regional play on Friday by eliminating the host team.

Sophomore right-hander Mickie Keuning, who like Olson graduated from Duluth East, started on the mound and went eight strong innings, while teammate Thomas Rogers of Cloquet pitched the final two innings to earn the win for the Saints.

"This (gave) us a chance to earn our way to the championship, so it was a big win," Kemp said. "Mickie was great, and Tom came in and did what we expected him to do. Honestly, with the way those guys have been pitching, I didn't think we were going to give up more than one or two runs. They did what they were supposed to do, and then we generated just enough offense to win."

Keuning, the 2011 News Tribune baseball player of the year, scattered five hits and allowed just one earned run despite yielding five walks to Whitewater (35-9). Senior Kyle Jensen led the Saints' offense with two hits, and he started the game-winning rally after getting hit by a pitch to start the 10th inning. Heaton came in to pinch run for him, setting up Parker's heroics.

FLAGSTAD HEADS SAINTS' UMAC SELECTIONS

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Flagstad was named Upper Midwest Athletic Conference player of the year for the second straight season as UMAC all-conference selections were announced Friday.

Flagstad, a senior outfielder from Hinckley, Minn., batted .489 in conference play while leading the league in runs (28), stolen bases (11) and slugging percentage (.872) as the Saints won their 17th straight conference title.

Teammate Austin Colvard of Little Canada, Minn., was named UMAC rookie of the year after batting .414 while striking out only once in UMAC play.

Flagstad and Colvard were joined on the UMAC First Team by teammates Jake Casareto of International Falls, Minn., Michael Swenson of Scandia, Minn., Schwantes, of Lakeville, Minn., and Jensen, of Wyoming, Minn.

Rogers and sophomore Pad Getchell of Stillwater, Minn., were honorable mention selections, while senior Thomas Jezierski of Cloquet was the Saints' all-sportsmanship selection.

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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