By DOUG HENNES
APPLETON, Wis. – St. Thomas exploded for nine runs in the third inning and held on for a 12-7 win over Christopher Newport Friday night in the opening round of the NCAA Division III College World Series.
The Tommies (39-8) rapped 15 hits, stole eight bases and took advantage of five Christopher Newport errors to launch Steve Maher to his school-record 13th win of the season. They next will play at 7:45 p.m. Saturday against defending national champion and No. 1-ranked Marietta, a 13-2 winner over Whitworth.
Maher broke the wins record set two years ago by Matt Schuld, but struggled in the early going. He loaded the bases three times in the second and third and allowed two runs in each inning before settling down and retiring 11 of 13 hitters in the next four innings.
“It may have been nerves,” Maher said about his shaky start. “I didn’t have my best stuff in the first few innings, but I was able to settle down with the big lead. The team picked me up and I held on.”
As for the school record, “It’s an unreal feeling,” the sophomore All-American said. “To be considered on the same level as Matt is pretty humbling.”
After spotting Christopher Newport (34-9) a 2-0 lead in the second inning, the Tommies responded with nine runs in the third off Greg Goldsmith, who came in with a 6-2 record and 2.43 ERA. They sent 13 men to the plate and banged out eight singles and a double; the nine hits in one inning were one off the national tournament record set by Marietta in 1983.
Justin Novak, Ben Podobinski and Tim Kuzniar each had two hits in the third. Novak and Podobinski started the onslaught with back-to-back bunt singles, and Kuzniar tied the game with a two-run double after Olean gave him the green light on a 3-0 count.
“He swings the bat well enough that he can run into one,” Olean said. “It was early enough in the game that it was worth taking a chance.”
“On 3-0, as a batter, my first thought is to take the pitch,” Kuzniar said. “He left one over the plate and I put on a good swing on it.”
Charles Bruchu followed with a single and Dylan Thomas gave the Tommies a 3-2 lead with a sacrifice fly that scored Kuzniar. Five batters later and with the Tommies leading 5-2, Novak came up for the second time in the inning and hit a low liner that caromed off first base into right field and scored two runners for a 7-2 lead. Podobinski followed with an RBI single and scored the inning’s final run after a throwing error.
Hitting in the ninth spot, Novak finished with a team-high three hits and three runs, stole two bases and had two RBI in his 15th start of the year. The senior has platooned with Sam Miller at second base, starting against right-handed pitchers over the last several weeks.
“I knew it was my time,” Novak said, “and that I had to step up big.”
“Awesome,” Olean said in describing Novak’s performance. “He played really good defense (four assists and three putouts) and had some big hits. He stood up and played like a senior tonight.”
Christopher Newport cut the St. Thomas lead to 9-4 in the bottom of the third after Maher loaded the bases and gave up a two-run double. He loaded the bases again with a walk but induced a fly ball to strand three runners.
St. Thomas got those two runs back in the fifth for an 11-4 lead. Novak hit his third single of the game, stole second and scored on a single by Bruchu, who stole second and came in on a Thomas double. The Tommies added their final run in the sixth when Dan Reichert singled, stole second and scored on a throwing error.
Olean said he wanted the Tommies to be aggressive on the base paths, especially when they got into scoring position early in the game.
“Their pitchers weren’t holding us on too close and were slow to the plate,” Olean said, “so we tried to take advantage and run. It paid off.”
Mark Ulrich relieved Maher in the eighth and recorded a 1-2-3 inning but ran into trouble in the ninth. He gave up a single, homerun, single and walk before Olean brought in Danczyk, who issued a walk and loaded the bases with nobody out. The Captains hit a sacrifice fly to cut the deficit to 12-7 and reloaded the bases on another walk, but Danczyk got the two strikeouts to end the game.
“That’s why you like to score a lot of runs,” Olean said. “You never can have enough runs in a tournament like this.”
NCAA D-III Tournament Friday Results
Wheaton (Mass.) 3, Webster (Mo.) 2
Cortland State 10, Kean 9 (N.J.) 5
St. Thomas 12, C. Newport (Va.) 7
Marietta (Ohio) 9, Whitworth (Wash.) 2, top ninth inning