By DOUG HENNES
St. Thomas saw its record-setting winning streak of 21 games end Tuesday night with a 9-2 loss to the Division I Minnesota Gophers in the last game at Siebert Field.
The Tommies, ranked No. 2 in Division III, fell behind 5-0 in the second inning, closed the gap to 5-2 in the seventh but had their rally hopes snuffed by a two-out grand slam in the Gophers’ half of the inning.
“We swung the bats okay tonight,” St. Thomas coach Chris Olean said, “but when you’re playing a Division I team, you need to be sharper. We gave up too many hits (13) and too many walks (six). We didn’t play badly, and we didn’t play good.”
Despite the loss, Olean was grateful for the opportunity to play the final game in the 41-year history of Siebert, which will be razed and replaced by a new $7.5 million field on the same site. A crowd of 1,421 showed up for a game billed as “The Final Pitch.”
“I’m glad we were part of such a historic game,” Olean said, “and happy the Gophers invited us.”
The Tommies (30-5), playing their fifth game in three days, arrived at Siebert with good reason to be optimistic. They had won their last two games against Minnesota at Siebert -– 6-3 in 2009 and 8-3 a year ago -– and lost only 5-4 in 12 innings to Minnesota in 2010 in the Metrodome.
Last year’s winning pitcher, senior John Licht, got the start for St. Thomas but struggled with his control and lasted only 1 1-3 innings. He gave up seven hits and five earned runs, including four in the second inning, when the Gophers sent nine batters to the plate.
Sophomore lefty Mark Ulrich relieved Licht and held the Gophers at bay through the fifth inning, giving up only two hits, striking out three and picking off runners to the end the fourth and fifth.
The Tommies scored their runs in the seventh on singles by Dylan Thomas and Tim Kuzniar, an RBI single by J.D. Dorgan and a Dan Reichert sacrifice fly. But the Gophers padded their lead to 9-2 minutes later when leadoff hitter Andy Henkemeyer crushed a Greg Clute pitch over the right-field fence for a grand slam -– and the last Gopher hit in Siebert Field.
St. Thomas third baseman Charles Bruchu actually had the last hit in Siebert -– a ninth-inning single -– and reliever Tommy Danczyk finished off the Gophers in the eighth by striking out the side on just 12 pitches.
Bruchu and Thomas each had two hits. Thomas ran his hitting streak to eight games, and Kuzniar extended his hit streak to seven games..
Olean and the Tommies now turn their attention back to the MIAC, where they can become the first team in conference history to finish the regular season 20-0 if they can sweep Gustavus Adolphus on Saturday in St. Peter. St. Thomas finished 19-1 in 1996 and 1999.
Click here for box score:
Dan Reichert (Mike Ekern photo)
Coach Chris Olean (Mike Ekern photo)
John Licht (Mike Ekern photo)
Josh Kubitschek pitches (Mike Ekern photo)
J.D. Dorgan had UST's only RBI hit. (Mike Ekern photo)