By DOUG HENNES
WHITEWATER, Wis. –- Just throw strikes.
That’s Bryce Gapinski’s mantra in the playoffs this month, and it’s working rather nicely so far for the St. Thomas baseball team.
The senior southpaw struck out a career-high 11 batters Wednesday to lead the Tommies (35-8) to a 5-1 win over St. Norbert’s College in the opening round of the NCAA Midwest Regionals. They will play UW-Whitewater in a second-round game at 4 p.m. Thursday.
Gapinski’s complete-game performance was reminiscent of the way he dominated Bethel in posting a 7-0 shutout last Saturday in the MIAC playoffs. He again had a 3-to-1 strikes-to-balls ratio – 89 strikes and only 30 balls – as he improved to 9-0 on the season and 28-5 in his St. Thomas career, second only to Matt Schuld’s 30 wins from 2007 to 2010.
“I was successful in throwing both of my pitches for strikes, and on any count,” Gapinski said. “I got ahead with my fastball and got most of my strikeouts with curves.”
“He did his job,” Coach Chris Olean said of Gapinski. “He threw strikes. He especially did a good job of throwing his curve for a strike when he needed to.”
Gapinski has been on a roll. In his last five starts, he is 5-0 with a 0.25 ERA, 27 strikeouts and only five walks in 36 innings.
St. Norbert’s snapped his 29-inning scoreless streak in the third on a single, sacrifice bunt and double. The Green Knights threatened to add to their lead in the fifth when they loaded the bases with one out on a walk, a single and an infield error.
“I knew I had to throw strikes and keep it in the pitcher’s count when they loaded the bases,” Gapinski said. “I was able to strike out the next guy and get a grounder (unassisted to first) to end the inning.”
The Tommies, ranked No. 4 in the country and seeded No. 1 in the regional, started slowly on offense and had only one single going into the bottom of the fifth.
Second baseman Sam Miller got the rally going with a one-out single, Jon Kinsel walked on four pitches and Ben Podobinski reached on a fielding error to load the bases. Dylan Thomas walked on four pitches to force in the tying run and Charles Bruchu hit a two-out, two-RBI single to give the Tommies a 3-1 lead.
“The pitcher threw me another changeup,” said Bruchu, who was 12 for 21 with 10 RBI last weekend in the MIAC playoffs. “I had been getting out in front of it, but I saw this one coming and ripped it to left.”
St. Thomas picked up single runs in the sixth on a J.D. Dorgan double and Dan Reichert single and in the seventh when Tim Kuzniar singled in Jack Hogan.
In the earlier game, host Whitewater outlasted Concordia Chicago 2-1 in 10 innings. The Warhawks (30-15) and Tommies split a Metrodome doubleheader on March 8, with St. Thomas winning the opener 3-0 behind Steve Maher’s two-hit shutout and losing the nightcap 8-3 in eight innings after tying the game in bottom of the seventh.
In the evening games, the Nos. 3-4 seeds lost. Six-seed St. Scholastica rallied to top North Park, 8-7, while seventh-seed Aurora edged second-seed UW-LaCrosse, 2-1.
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