By Ryan Matheny, Contributor
The Omaha baseball team started off the 2015 Summit League season on the right foot with a three-game sweep of South Dakota State at the Ballpark at Boys Town.
Head Coach Bob Herold said he was proud of the way his team played throughout the weekend.
“I was most impressed with the way we were able to get out ahead early,” said Herold. “The guys were able to stay active all weekend.”
In game one, Omaha got off to a strong start before rallying late for a 6-4 win.
The Mavericks jumped out to an early lead on back-to-back RBI singles from Justin Threlkeld and Ryan Cate.
South Dakota State tied the game in the third when freshman Tony Kjolsing laced a double into the right field corner to plate two. The Jackrabbits then took their first lead of the day when Kjolsing hit a sacrifice fly into center for his third RBI of the afternoon.
Through the middle portions of the game, Omaha could not solveSDSU starter Adam Bray, who retired 13 straight Omaha hitters, including five straight via the strikeout.
Herold said he didn’t want to say much to his team when Bray was rolling on the mound.
“I don’t want to get in their heads too much,” said Herold. “You have just got to let them fight it out and they did. Ours guys didn’t give up.”
The Mavericks finally broke through in the sixth inning when Threlkeld notched his second RBI of the game on a single. Daniel Jewett went opposite field to plate two more runs in the frame to put Omaha on top 5-3.
Kjolsing again had his hands in the Jackrabbit offense, drawing a walk and scoring on a Reid Clary double to cut the Maverick lead to 5-4.
Omaha added an insurance run in the seventh when Alex Schultz came around to score on a wild pitch.
Cole Volkers entered the game and pitched 2 1/3 innings of no-hit relief to secure the victory for the Mavericks. Marcus Ethen (1-0) earned the win, throwing 1 2/3 innings of relief.
Herold said he stayed with Volkerslate, despite closer Gregg Gausden being ready to go.
“When they get on a roll, you have to play them,” said Herold. “It’s like the hot hand in basketball, keep feeding that guy.”
The Mavericks came back on Saturday and walked off to win their second Summit League contest of the year 7-6 over SDSU.
Omaha again started out fast in the first game, plating two runs in the bottom of the first on an Alex Mortensen RBI double, followed by a Cate RBI single.
The Mavericks would extend their lead to 6-0 with a four-run sixth inning. Cole Gruber hit a sacrifice fly into right field to plate Threlkeld. After back-to-back walks loaded the bases, Cate ripped a double into the left-center gap that plated two runs. The Jackrabbit centerfielder bobbled the ball in the outfield on the play, allowing another Omaha run to come across and make the score 6-0.
The Jackrabbits came storming back in the top half of the seventh, scoring four runs of their own. Kjolsing continued his big weekend, hitting a two-run double. Matt Johnson singled to score another SDSU run and finally Clary hit a sacrifice fly, making the score 6-4 in favor of Omaha.
In the top of the ninth, Gregg Gausden came on to try and earn the save for the Mavericks, but gave up three straight singles to begin the frame. Al Robbins was hit by a pitch to plate one run, before pinch hitter Jesse Munsterman hit a clean single to tie the game. It appeared SDSU would score another run when Eric Danforth lifted a fly ball into left field. Luke Ringhofer tagged and tried to score but a perfect throw from Jewett gunned him down at the plate to preserve the tie.
In the ninth, the Mavericks loaded the bases when Cate was hit by a pitch and moved to second on a groundout. Collin Leif drew a walk, and following a strikeout, Threlkeld took four balls to fill up the bases for lead-off hitter Alex Schultz. On a 3-2 count, Schultz sent a slow grounder down the third base side that SDSU’s Newt Johnson could not handle, sending the home team into a frenzy with the 7-6 walk-off win.
After the game, Gruber said getting the walk-off win was big in a crowded Summit League.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Gruber. “All of these conference games are going to be like this. They [SouthDakota State] are a great team. Every year, year in and year out, they are a team that competes hard.”
In the final game of the series, Omaha again got out to a quick lead, scoring four run in the first on a single, double and error.
SDSU scratched their first run in the third when Paul Jacobson hit an RBI groundout.
The Mavericks answered in the fourth with two more runs to push their lead to 6-1, before a crazy fifth inning.
In the top half of the fifth, SDSU scored three times on two RBI doubles. Then, the Omaha bats exploded for eight runs in the bottom half.
10 Maverick hitters batted in the frame that was capped by a Cole Patterson pinch-hit home run, making the score 14-4. SDSU would add two runs in the sixth and one more in the ninth, but Robert Calvano was able to get out of the final inning and finish off Omaha’s 10th win of the season.
Omaha (10-8, 3-0) now sits alone atop the Summit League standings after the first weekend of conference play. The Mavericks will welcome in North Dakota State next weekend at the Ballpark at BoysTown. The three-game series is scheduled for Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with each game starting at 1 p.m.