Dylan Thomas helped win a pivotal regional tournament game on Thursday with his arm. On Saturday, he decided the regional championship game with his bat.
The Tommies’ junior designated hitter drove in five runs with a pair of clutch two-out swings. His two-run homer in the sixth and a three-run homer in the seventh propelled top-seed St. Thomas to a 10-6 victory over fourth-seed UW-Whitewater and cap a 4-0 run through the regional tournament in Whitewater.
UST (38-8) advances to the eight-team College World Series for the second time in four seasons and fifth time in 14 seasons. St. Thomas were NCAA runners-up in 1999 and 2000 and won national championships in 2001 and 2009.
No. 4-ranked St. Thomas pounded 15 hits, including three each from Sam Miller and Charles Bruchu. It left 10 runners on base in the first six innings but used two late Thomas blasts to complete its ninth comeback win of the season.
It’s St. Thomas’ first regional championship under third-year head coach Chris Olean. His Tommies had a school-record 21-game winning streak earlier this season, went 19-1 in the MIAC race, and now have won eight of their last 10 games. Their season thus far has included a 10-3 record against St. Scholastica and WIAC schools Whitewater, Oshkosh, Stevens Point and LaCrosse.
The Toms avoided the same fate as UST football and men’s basketball teams that ended their successful seasons in the NCAA playoffs with defeats in Whitewater to the Warhawks.
The two wins this week over UWW also avenged five consecutive postseason defeats to Whitewater at regionals from 2004-2010.
Thomas threw eight innings on Thursday and allowed one earned run to drop the Warhawks into the losers’ bracket with a 5-3 decision. His clutch at-bats Saturday helped UST avoid a Sunday rematch for the championship of the double-elimination tourney.
UST used four pitchers in Saturday’s win. Sophomore Tommy Danczyk (2-1) threw two scoreless innings and allowed just one runner to take the victory. Steve Maher got the last six outs. He loaded the bases with two out in the eighth but got a fly out to end the threat. He finished with a 1-2-3 ninth inning.
UST starter Bryce Gapinski threw four shutout innings before running into trouble in the fifth inning. Whitewater scored five runs after two were out to take a 5-4 lead. A two-run homer helped spark the Warhawks (33-17).
The Tommies left two men on base in the bottom of the fifth and went to the sixth inning still behind 5-4. After the first two were retired in the Tommie sixth, Bruchu singled and Thomas stroked a homer to left field to regain the lead at 6-5.
UST scored three crucial runs in the last of the seventh. Sam Miller singled and was bunted to second. Jack Hogan singled to put runners at the corners, and Tim Kuzniar doubled home a run to extend the lead to 7-5. After a strikeout, Thomas drilled a game-deciding three-run blast to right field.
Thomas has six home runs, all in his last 22 games. The junior only had one plate appearances as a relief pitcher in 2010 and 2011 seasons at Des Moines Area Community College but has shined at the plate since making his first start as DH on April 4. In his last two regional tourney games, he walked four times and went 5-for-7 with seven RBI to raise his average to a team-best .386.
The Tommies, who played their last three games without injured All-Region OF Ben Podobinski, finished the four-game regional with 42 runs and 51 hits and a .350 batting average. Their four starting pitchers allowed just two earned runs in 25 innings.
Thomas was named Most Outstanding Player of the tournament and joined Gapinski, Bruchu and J.D. Dorgan on the 11-player all-tournament team. Gapinski made his 44th career start on Saturday. He's allowed just one earned run in his last 38 innings.
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