TUCSON, Ariz. -- On the final day of Concordia-Chicago's Spring Break trip, the Cougars faced a "gut check" game against St. Thomas (Minn.). The Tommies had pummeled the Cougars 26-6 on Friday, and the loss seemed to linger through parts of Saturday's doubleheader with St. Olaf. But the Cougars pulled off a little payback of their own this morning, overcoming a two-run deficit in the eighth and then winning 6-5 in the bottom of the ninth.
"Friday's game was a tough one for us to take in that fashion, and then we took another punch in the face today as they overcame our 3-0 lead to go up in the seventh," said CUC head coach Adam Smith. "But our guys kept working and believed that they could get it done, and I am so proud of the way they fought to get this win."
Kurt Kempema took the mound for the Cougars, his first appearance since a winning relief effort against St. Mary's (Minn.) last Monday. The southpaw worked out of a mini-jam in the first, retiring Tim Kuzniar on a grounder to first with two men on base. That moment was a big mental boost for the Cougars after the Tommies had scored in all eight of their at-bats in Friday's game.
Concordia's batters gifted Kempema with a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the second. Thomas Gier was hit by a pitch, and Brent Spohr and Will Randerson singled to load the bases. One out later, Dan Lo Dolce smacked the first pitch he saw from UST starter Colin Wendlinger to leftfield, scoring Gier. Dan Eichholzer followed with a chopper through the left side to bring home Spohr and Randerson.
St. Thomas got on the board in the third amid some controversy. The Tommies loaded the bases with one out on three singles. Kuzniar then whacked a full-count pitch to deep rightfield. After some initial trouble, LoDolce made a great running over-the-shoulder catch nearing the fence. LoDolce threw to second to double off the runner, but the runner on third was ruled to have crossed the plate before the third out was made. After some discussion, the ruling was upheld and the teams went to the bottom of the fourth.
The score remained that way until the sixth. After Kempema retired the first two batters, a walk brought pinch-hitter Kelvin Stroik to the plate. Stroik hit a liner to left that appeared to be right at the leftfielder. But the ball was lost in the sun, and Stroik wound up on second with a double as Kuzniar scored. Luc Henke followed with a soft single to left that scored Stroik, and the game was tied at 3-3.
The Tommies took the lead in the seventh. Ben Podobinski beat out an infield chopper with one out. Jack Hogan followed with a solid double to left that brought the speedy UST leadoff hitter all the way around from first with the go-ahead run. Tyler Peterson then singled through the left side to score Hogan. Kempema would finish the inning but, with his pitch count well over 100, the lefthander was done for the day.
"The stats won't show it, but Kurt had a great day," said Smith. "A couple of soft hits, a couple of plays we didn't make in the field, those things added up to five runs. But we know how effective he was, and he kept us very much in the game."
Concordia was denied in the seventh as a very close inside pitch was called strike three for the third out with two men aboard. But the Cougars rose up in the eighth to draw even. With one out, Gier reached on a solid single to right. The Cougars then caught a break as a potential double-play ball was thrown badly to second and everyone was safe. Wendlinger then got out number two, but Rich Santarelli put an end to the UST starter's day by lining a pitch over the shortstop's head for a base hit, making it a 5-4 game. Bill Ferderer relieved Wendlinger and got ahead of LoDolce 0-2. However, LoDolce made his second huge play of the day, lining the next pitch to rightfield for a game-tying hit.
Steve Cox, who had entered the game in the eighth, pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to set the stage for the Cougars' game-winning rally. Carlos Olavarria worked a one-out walk. Kyle Huber and Gier were then hit by pitches, loading the bases. Jacon Nelson entered the game and recorded a strikeout for out number two. Randerson was next, and he took four straight outside pitches to draw the game-ending walkaa, forcing home Olavarria.
Assessing the week, Smith said that "we still have some things to work on, but this was a huge win for us to close out this week. We would not have been happy with a 5-3 trip after starting out 4-0, but this win today over a great team like St. Thomas is one that can give us some momentum going forward."