Saints cruise through UMAC, now face big boys
Something has got to be done about the St. Scholastica baseball team and the UMAC baseball tournament. In case you haven’t heard, the Saints won the UMAC tournament after sailing through the Upper Midwest Athletic Conference regular season with a perfect 16-0 record.
Come to think about it, 16-0 sounds just about like one of St. Scholastica’s scores in the tournament. My theory is that when you go to a Saints baseball game, get there before the first inning, otherwise you might miss the whole game. And, if you get there for the first inning, you may have seen the whole game.
St. Scholastica opened the double-elimination tournament with a 12-2 victory over hopeful but outgunned Wisconsin-Superior. Ben Christofferson was the starting pitcher for the Saints, and he did well, blanking the Yellowjackets before the bullpen gave up a couple late runs. But it was something of a foregone conclusion, after the Saints had jumped ahead with a 5-run last of the first.
That sent the Saints against Bethany Lutheran, which had squeezed past Minnesota-Morris in the first round. The Saints gained an early lead in that one, too, and won 10-1.
Bethany Lutheran came back and won its elimination game to wind up back against St. Scholastica in the 1 p.m. “first” championship game on Saturday. Wade Stadium was reserved for a rematch at 4 p.m. just in case Bethany had upset the Saints and forced a final game with both teams having lost once.
Not to worry. St. Scholastica again jumped ahead and beat Bethany 8-0 to complete a three-day run in which the Saints outscored three foes 30-3.
Grant Rindal pitched seven shutout innings in the final, striking out six in the 10th shutout of the season for St. Scholastica.
Tyler Duex, a senior shortstop for St. Scholastica, had pretty much of a dream tournament, going 8-for-10 in the three games.
The problem facing the Saints was that they win the UMAC tournament on an annual basis. This season was the Saints 21st consecutive regular season title, and the tournament trophy was their 21st straight.
But just as regularly, the Saints then hit the road, armed with a lofty record, but run smack into a team from one of the high-power conferences and are sent back home. This season, coach Corey Kemp scheduled a tough nonconference slate, which could come in handy this weekend, when the club goes to Whitewater, Wis., to face Wisconsin-LaCrosse in a Thursday opener in the double-elimination Division III regional tournament.
The Saints swept LaCrosse in a nonconference doubleheader, and split with St. Thomas, a perennial power from the MIAC and another entry in the Whitewater Regional.
Ideally, the Saints could move into the MIAC, leaving the rest of the highly competitive UMAC teams on their own, where some other team could win a title now and then. Problem is, the MIAC teams aren’t at all thrilled to welcome a top-level threat into their conference.
SPEAKING OF REGIONALS
On the Division I scene, the University of Minnesota women’s softball team has been dealt one of the great injustices by being seeded to play in Tuscaloosa, Ala., in the regional of the NCAA Division I tournament. The outrage comes with the fact that the Gophers, who just won the Big Ten tournament on top of the Big Ten league title, have a 54-3 record — the best in the nation — yet they were not given one of the 16 top seeds.
Minnesota also was ranked No. 2 in the nation, but the NCAA selection committee goes by things like the Pairwise computer rating and, a key issue, strength of schedule.
For years I have heckled the U of M for scheduling a cupcake schedule in both men’s football and basketball. They play a lot of hyphenated teams that you and I may not know are Division I colleges. My thinking is not so much that their weak schedule gives them a lofty record in their quest to make the NCAA field, but that playing weak teams does not prepare them for playing tougher teams down the road a ways.
Ironic that it would come back to bite the Gophers right in the women’s softball vulnerability. They reportedly were only 2-2 against top 25 ranked teams and didn’t beat a single team in the top 10 RPI index ratings. All 16 teams selected by the selection committee to be one of the top 16 had beaten at least one.
The beauty is that the Gophers are in the tournament, and they open Friday against Louisiana Tech. If they win, they face the winner of Alabama against Albany.
Sara Groenewegen leads the Gophers into the regional, sporting a 30-2 pitching record with a 0.59 ERA, and 280 strikeouts. She gave up only two hits over 16 innings at the Big Ten tournament, including a no-hitter against Northwestern in the quarterfinals, and a title-game shutout over Ohio State.
STANLEY CUP FINALISTS
The NHL’s conference finals are nearing completion, but both series are still wide-open. Nashville got Anaheim right where they want them, taking a 2-1 lead in games with a stirring 2-1 victory after two Predators goals were disallowed for contact with the goaltender. Game 4 is also at Nashville, which has turned into an impressive hockey city on its own.
In the East, Pittsburgh remains a favorite, but Ottawa has a plucky outfit led by the inimitable Erik Karlsson, who rushes from defense to help lead the offense as well.
Both series are featuring heavy hitting — too heavy, if you don’t have a taste for needless injuries. There are Rollerball-quality killshot hits every game, and virtually every shift.
Anaheim and Pittsburgh are best-suited for the heavy contact, and they would have a high-profile battle if they both advance to the Stanley Cup finals. But I’m hoping for upsets at both ends, with Nashville getting past Anaheim, and Ottawa unseating Cup champ Pittsburgh.
Ottawa against Nashville. The TV networks would scream in dismay, but it would be a fast, fantastic series.