Nyden Hill – Staff Writer
This past Friday, the Gustavus baseball team took on the University of Northwestern Eagles at home in an attempt to capitalize on their first home game of the season. Entering the contest, the Gusties were sitting below .500, being 3-8 on the season. The Eagles were also coming into the matchup just below .500, boasting a 5-6 record.
Despite the slow start to their season, the Gusties remained confident and hopeful heading into their home opener. While the season may not have started as any of them had envisioned, the Gusties were hoping to improve on a second place MIAC finish from last season, so their mindset remained steadfast heading into this matchup, which after their trip to Arizona, served as an introduction to the rest of the season with their first game on Minnesota soil.
“Last year we kind of just ran teams. We went 10-0, 12-2, stuff like that. This year we found out pretty quickly that we are still talented but we need to work harder for it. Going into the game, we just knew that we had to work all nine innings and take every inning, every pitch, super seriously,” Senior infielder Nick Azar said.
To provide some additional context on the Gusties’ season thus far, the men began their season with a road trip down to sunny Tucson, Arizona for the Tucson invitational. While in past years, this tourney has served as a tune-up for the season, with the Gusties rolling past their competition one by one, this year was different. Throughout the week, the Gusties went 2-6, with wins against Allegheny and Wesleyan, both coming in doubleheaders. Given this somewhat slow start to the season, as well as given what the players had to say, the Gusties were eager to set their season back on track.
On Friday, throughout the first two innings of play, both teams appeared locked in a standstill, with the score remaining 0-0. Both teams seemed to be showing their best stuff defensively, with only one Gustavus hit being registered throughout play.
However, things broke through in the third inning for the Gusties, where a walk drawn by First-year outfielder/pitcher, Tomas Nelson, gave the Gusties the chance they needed to turn the tide. With one runner on and two outs, an All-American Senior infielder, Jack Hanson, stepped up to the plate. Hanson took full advantage of the opportunity, hitting a bomb to left field for a home run, resulting in two runs for the Gusties.
“Jack Hanson, our All-American, hit a home run and got us rolling. After that, everybody had better and better at bats,” Sophomore pitcher Luke Siegle said.
In the fourth inning, the Gusties were able to continue to capitalize offensively. Azar, who was walked, was able to continue all the way to third base. Just three batters later, Nelson singled to left field, driving in Azar to make the score 3-0, Gusties.
In the fifth, Northwestern walked Hanson and senior infielder, Gavin Baker, in back-to-back succession, which set the Gusties up perfectly to increase their lead. Junior infielder, Chris Knowles, stepped up to the plate and knocked Hanson in with an RBI single.
For the next two innings, the Gusties and Eagles were silent. From the perspective of the home team, much of this defensive success came from the success of Siegle. Throughout his appearance, Siegle pitched six scoreless innings, only allowing three hits while picking up four strikeouts. When asked about what he attributed his success to, Siegle credited his teammates, including the catcher, First-year Sam Schneider.
“As a pitcher, it’s so much more than just you. I think our catcher, Sam Schneider, threw out a guy in the first inning, which was big to get us out of there. He was fantastic behind the plate. Our defense as a team was fantastic. Anytime there’s individual success it’s always because of the team,” Siegle said.
Adding onto this defensive excellence that was exhibited by the Gusties, Schneider had this to say when asked about his role in the team win: “I think that when I go out there as the catcher, I want to be working in unison with the pitcher. I want to be receiving the ball as best I can and getting strikes that might be borderline blocked up for the pitcher,” Schnider said.
In the seventh, the Gusties found themselves in a comfortable position in having bases loaded. Again, Knowles stepped up to the plate and hit a sacrifice fly to drive one run in, while immediately after Azar drove in another, making the score 6-0.
To leave no doubt about the outcome of the game, the Gusties added three more runs in the eighth inning. After this, the Gusties made quick work of the Eagles in the top of the ninth to finish play for the afternoon. Upon conclusion of the game, the Gusties picked up a win in their home opener to the tune of 9-0, and with the rest of the season in mind, remained hopeful.
“Especially after last year, after losing in the MIAC Championship, our first goal is just to get back there, and we really feel that we are the best team in this conference. Right now we just need to take it one game at a time,” Knowles said.