Eamonn McCullough – Staff Writer
The depth of talent on the Gustavus baseball team has been on display throughout the spring season, a trend that only continued this past Saturday, April 24, as the Gusties swept Bethel in a double header on the road. Intermixed with the deep field of skill on display, however, were several standout performances that led to a stunning, storybook victory over the Royals in the last inning of the day.
The Gusties came out of the gates early in their first game of the day, blazing past Bethel’s 1-0 lead from the first inning with eight straight runs in the fourth inning. The stacked inning was propelled by standout performances from Junior Jack Hanson, who hammered out his sixth home run of the season to allow three players across home after already hitting the Gusties’ first single of the fourth.
The very next inning meant more scoring opportunities for Gustavus as Junior Nick Azar finished rounding the bases off a hit from First-year Chris Knowles, bringing the score to 9-1. Although Bethel was able to squeeze another run in during the seventh inning, it would not be enough to close on the Gusties’ unstoppable momentum. Despite the commanding lead, the Gusties certainly had to work for their early victory.
“I think my biggest challenge was just staying focused for a long period of time and trusting the defense to make plays we did. The biggest success for the team, I think, was turning three double plays in a close game to help bail me out. It just seemed like every time the Royals would swing, we would have a guy right where they hit it, so that was pretty cool,” Senior Damon Rademacher said.
Subsequently, the Royals were looking for revenge in the second game, taking an early lead that would grow to 4-1 by the bottom of the fourth. The Gusties strapped in to play the long game, however, closing the gap with runs in the sixth and eighth to bring the score to 4-3.
“I would say I’m the most impressed with how fast our team can score, and how defensively we make a lot of very difficult plays look routine at least once a game. I feel like our team chemistry is unmatched. Every player on the team serves a purpose, and they know what their purpose is,” Rademacher said.
By the top of the ninth, the Gusties took advantage of that chemistry. First-year Bryce Novak started the inning off strong with a single before Junior Dalton Thelen slammed a home run, his third of the season, to send two more Gusties home and clinch the game 5-4. Thelen wasn’t done with heroics, however, and after the Bethel offense put the potential game-tying runner on second, he chased a fly ball to the left-center warning track and caught it on the slide, ending the game in an eruption of applause.
”My favorite moment definitely had to be Dalton Theilen’s performance in the 9th inning. He hit the go-ahead home run in the top of the inning, then made a diving catch on the warning track to end the game,” Rademacher said.
Rademacher was another standout player in the Bethel double, pitching four scoreless innings including the ninth for his third win of the season on the mound. Rademacher caught the eye of the entire conference as well, being named MIAC Baseball Pitcher of the Week on Monday, April 26.
“I felt very confident in my stuff so far this year. It also seems like everything that can go right does go right,” Rademacher said.
This week was merely a continuation of his strong season, and in fact the only change from previous weeks was more playing time.
“This week was a little bit different in the fact that this was the first time in my college career that I threw four innings in a game,” Rademacher said.
The Gusties hardly had time to savor their weekend victories, however, as they completed the three-game series against Bethel at home on Monday, April 26. The result was yet another victory in stunning fashion, highlighted by Senior Weston Lombard pitching a legendary nine-inning no-hitter.
“Getting the last out, being able to celebrate with my teammates… That was really cool since it was a group effort and everyone made the plays,” Lombard said.
The last time a Gustie shut a team out from the mound was in 2005, when Josh Spitzack ’06 left Carleton without a hit for seven innings. In fact, in the last 46 years of Gustavus baseball, Lombard’s no-hitter is only one of three.
“It’s not something you usually look into until you do it. After it happened I did a little bit of research, and it was really cool to be a part of,” Lombard said.
In addition to Lombard’s history-making game, Monday featured stand-out performances from Azar on defense, who made a pair of assists on ground balls in the eighth inning, as well as Novak and Hanson leading the team at bat.
“When I’m on the mound, I’m really confident, I have no worries. I know the guys have put the work in to prepare themselves to put us in a position to win,” Lombard said.
With Monday’s 2-0 victory over Bethel, the Gustie record improved to 18-2 overall and 13-2 in MIAC play. This puts them first in the conference. The Gusties are back in action at 1 p.m. at home on Tuesday, April 27 with a double header against Concordia. If that seems like a lot of games, it is.
“The rest of the season will be a grind, between games and school work. Finals are coming up fast and we have about 12 games in the next two weeks,” Rademacher said.