Just hours after their college baseball careers came to a frustrating end, seven Tommie seniors assembled at Koch Diamond on the morning of May 22.
The Tommies' 5-4 loss to Whitewater on May 21 capped a 2-2 record in the regional. Their final 35-9 record included seven one-run losses.
After a five-hour bus ride from Whitewater and a brief sleep at home, Matt Nelson, John Bauer, Derek Jacobson, Matt Schuld, Matt Olson, Roy Larson and Tom Wippler woke up, donned their caps and gowns, and headed to a familiar place to celebrate on graduation day.
The players, their parents and family mingled and took photos. Someone brought white paint and a brush to add "2010" to the outfield banner where St. Thomas' MIAC baseball championships are listed by season.
These seniors were responsible for several banner updates at Koch Diamond. Besides the 2009 NCAA championship, they contributed to four regular-season and three playoff championships in the conference. Their four-year record was 144-43. Their team led Division III in earned-run average this season and ranked first, first and third nationally in fielding percentage over the last three seasons.
Coach Chris Olean can only hope his seniors sprinkled some magic dust that the 2011 Tommies can use to carry on the tradition.
The 2009-2010 Division III athletics year is in the books. Track and field and lacrosse championships were secured last weekend. The last event wrapped up Tuesday in Appleton, Wis., as Illinois Wesleyan completed a remarkable late-season surge and won the NCAA baseball title with a 17-5 thumping of Cortland State.
The Titans took a page out of the St. Thomas baseball playbook. The 2009 Tommies went 16-4 in May en route to the national championship and a 41-13 closing record. Eight years earlier, the 2001 Toms placed third in their conference standings but caught fire in the postseason and won nationals.
Illinois Wesleyan had a 14-17 record on April 29 (8-7 in conference play) then went 17-4 down the stretch to claim the NCAA title and finish with a strange 31-21 record (.596 win%). The Titans, who lost five of their first six games of the season, placed fourth out of eight teams in their conference race.
Before last weekend, Illinois Wesleyan teams had won just three NCAA championships in school history. But the Titans’ women’s track and field team scored six points in the final event, the 4x400 relay, and pulled out a 54-53 win over UW-Oshkosh to claim the national title. Baseball came through three days later to give the school two championships on the season.
Last weekend marked the seventh year in a row that at least one member of the Theisen family was competing for St. Thomas at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
Junior Becky Theisen got a late start on track conditioning as a member of the UST women’s basketball team. But she was able to lower her 400-meter split enough to help the Tommies take fifth place in the 4x400 relay Saturday. The Toms tied for 13th place in the team standings
It was the first All-America honor for Becky Theisen and the 18th won by a family member.
PHOTO: Becky Theisen
Her brother P.J. was a seven-time track and field All-American (as well as an honorable mention football All-American). He also as a four-time CoSIDA Academic All-American in football and track and field. Her sister Katie was a four-time track/CC All-American, a two-time CoSIDA Academic All-American and recently was named this year’s national female recipient of the NCAA’s elite Walter Byers Postgraduate Scholarship.
Yep, the Theisens are pretty good students, too. P.J.’s 3.94 grade-point average was the lowest of the three siblings.
The women’s 4x400 continued another impressive streak for St. Thomas -– 28 years in a row that either a UST men’s or women’s relay team reached the finals at outdoor nationals.
St. Thomas also had an NCAA runner-up finish from Kylee Crotty in the javelin and a third-place finish from Kelly Russ in the 1,500. It was Crotty’s first All-America honor in her seven seasons in volleyball and outdoor track. She missed winning by a mere four inches and broke her own school record with a 150-0 throw. Russ broke a 24-year-old school record in the 1,500 meters and finished as a six-time All-American.
Since 2004, the Tommie women have had seven NCAA champions and four runners-up in national indoor and outdoor meets.
Tommie junior pitcher Kris Edwards will play this summer for the Green Bay Bullfrogs in the Northwoods League -– a rare opportunity for a Division III player.
The 16-team, wood-bat league starts play this weekend, and teams play a 70-game schedule. According to a Wikipedia entry, the league has had 277 of its alumni taken in the last two Major League Baseball Amateur drafts, including the fourth overall pick and two other first-round selections in 2009.
An All-Midwest Region honoree, Edwards is 9-4 in two seasons with the Tommies with a 1.81 ERA and 62 strikeouts and 24 walks in 90 innings. Edwards finished 2010 with an 8-4 record, including four hard-luck losses by margins of 2-1 to St. John’s, 1-0 to Augsburg, 3-2 to Augsburg, and 2-1 to UW-Stevens Point. The latter was in the NCAA regional playoffs.
PHOTO: Kris Edwards (Greg Smith photo)
His 1.87 ERA ranked 13th in Division III, and fourth best among pitchers who worked more than 60 innings.
Edwards started his career at UW-Whitewater, where he was 4-1 as a freshman at 2006. After undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2007 and sitting out 2008, Edwards contributed to the Toms’ 2009 NCAA title team. In the NCAA playoff opener against UW-Stevens Point, he pitched five scoreless innings to get the win in a 5-4, 17-inning victory.
This season, he started and pitched into the sixth inning on March 10 against Division I Minnesota. He left with the score knotted 3-3 in an eventual 5-4, 12-inning Gophers' victory. On May 2, his 24th birthday, he worked 7 2-3 innings in a 5-1 win over No. 7-ranked St. Scholastica. He also combined on a shutout of St. Mary’s, and beat St. Olaf 2-1 on May 8 to secure a conference championship for UST.
So the former Edina Hornet and Whitewater Warhawk and current St. Thomas Tommie is now a Bullfrog. At least this Green Bay team isn't nicknamed the "Baseball Packers" -- this seems like the wrong summer to wear a cap with the initials "B.P."