With two games separating the No. 6 and No. 10 spots in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference, every game for the rest of the season has an added sense of urgency for the Southwest Minnesota State baseball team.
And in Game 1 of Wednesday's NSIC home doubleheader against Minnesota-Duluth, the Mustangs helped their postseason cause with an 11-6 victory. But the Bulldogs, who are currently 10th in the NSIC, rebounded in a big way in a 21-8 throttling of the Mustangs for the split at Alumni Field.
"We came away splitting. It doesn't help us and it doesn't hurt us," said SMSU head coach Paul Blanchard. "We'll see how the rest of the games go, starting with Mankato this weekend. The top five teams, no one's going to catch them."
Photo by Joe Brown
Southwest Minnesota State’s Brian Ness sits back on a pitch during Game 2 of Wednesday’s NSIC doubleheader against Minnesota-Duluth at Alumni Field.
With six games in the last four days, the Mustangs' pitching staff was stretched, forcing the team to start Colton Smit, who hadn't started a collegiate game before Wednesday. UMD bashed Smit for six hits and five earned runs in 1 2/3 innings before Bryce Rippentrop came in relief.
When the junior reliever came in, SMSU was able to reverse its fortunes as the Bulldogs were held scoreless for the last four innings.
"We needed him to have a good outing today and he certainly did that," Blanchard said of Rippentrop. "He's struggled some this year, but we were hoping if we brought him in, he could do what he did today."
UMD231 000 0-6 11 1
SMSU240 230 X-11 12 0
UMD-Anders Engberg, Andy Yetzer (5), Ben Jungers (6); SMSU-Colton Smit, Bryce Rippentrop (2). WP-Rippentrop. LP-Engberg. HR: UMD-John Meyer; SMSU-Brian Ness. 2B: UMD-Mike Darley 2; SMSU-Jon Ellis, Chris Eichten, Ness, Jeff Watson, Ben Korger. LOB: UMD-7; SMSU-8.
UMD3(12)0 101 004-21 29 1
SMSU233 000 000-8 12 1
UMD-John Meyer, Matt Erickson (3), Michael Stocke (9); SMSU-Nate Dickhausen, Steven Wehr (2), Brandan Alfson (2), Eric Giddings (2), Calvin Kosminskas (5), Landon Gacke (6), Derek Skovbroten (8), Dylan Shoemaker (9). WP-Erickson. LP-Dickhausen. HR: UMD-Lucas Steinbach; SMSU-Tyler Flattum. 3B: UMD-Cody Aasen; SMSU-Ben Korger. 2B: Anders Engberg 3, Evan Walker 2, Mike Darley, Marcus Riewer, Chris Couillard; SMSU-Jon Ellis, Kyle Young, Korger. LOB: UMD-13; SMSU-5.
SMSU (12-12 NSIC, 22-17 overall) put together a four-run bottom of the second inning. Jon Ellis started things off with an RBI double, and with two on, Brian Ness drilled a three-run home run.
Tied at 6 in the fourth, the Mustangs took the lead for good on a sacrifice fly from Adam Thygesen and a two-out RBI single by Jordon Kontz.
Offensively, Chris Eichten went 3-for-4 with three runs scored and an RBI to lead SMSU in Game 1.
"He's probably our steadiest guy throughout the season, and he's come on in the last week or so," Blanchard said of Eichten. "He's a difficult guy to strike out, he's always putting the ball in play and he's hitting it harder lately."
In Game 2, things fell apart very early for the Mustangs.
The Bulldogs put up three runs with two outs in the top of the first. Marcus Riewer got on base with a single, and Anders Engberg followed that with an RBI double. Cody Aasen and Max Ryan each belted RBI singles for the 3-0 lead.
SMSU recovered with a two-hit, two-run inning with Ellis and Eichten bringing in runs.
Then the top of the second inning started with a single by UMD's Lucas Steinbach. And 10 hits and 12 runs later, the Bulldogs were up 15-2. Among the hit parade in the top of the second, Steinbach got another chance at the plate and crushed a grand slam over the left-center fence. In the half-inning, SMSU went through four pitchers.
"They swung the bats very to their credit," Blanchard said, "and when they didn't hit it hard, they hit to where we weren't. Everything they hit and put into play, they found a hole."
With six runs over the next two innings, the Mustangs cut the deficit to seven with six innings to go. But the Bulldogs' pitchers held SMSU scoreless for the rest of the game.
"We did enough offensively, and you should be in most every game if you score eight runs," Blanchard said. "It's only one game."
Riewer, Engberg and Aasen each had five hits, with Aasen racking up six RBIs in the UMD win. Riewer had five runs as the Bulldogs move to 10-15 in the NSIC, 17-22 overall.
On Saturday and Sunday, the Mustangs play a home-and-home series with the NSIC's top team, Minnesota State-Mankato. SMSU travels to Mankato on Saturday before returning home for a doubleheader Sunday. First pitch is slated for 1:30 p.m.