COLLEGE BASEBALL: Mayville State downed in conference championship
Shaky Mayville State defense, and some clutch pitching late by the University of Jamestown, ended in a 6-5 Jimmies victory Monday in the championship game of the North Star Athletic Association/Frontier Conference tournament here.
The win gave the 25th-ranked Jimmies (35-8) a second straight conference tournament title and the school’s seventh trip to the NAIA national tournament.
“There are going to be twists and turns and ups and downs throughout the course of a game, but this one seemed to have some pretty unusual ones, no question about it,” UJ coach Tom Hager said. “You have to be mentally tough and keep playing, keep grinding and our guys did that today.”
The Jimmies trailed for virtually the entire game after the Comets struck for four runs in the bottom of the first and one in the second for a 5-0 lead.
After wavering early, Jimmie starting pitcher Tanner Dahl held the Comets down until giving way to Ryan Sheeley in the seventh.
Then came the crazy bottom of the eighth.
Paul Sitkowski and Spencer Flaten opened the inning with singles and Mitch Stevens followed with a bunt, designed to sacrifice, but was so good the Comets got nobody.
Mayville State pitcher Spencer Kidder got pinch-hitter Shayne Kelly to strike out, but Matt Achter, a second straight pinch-hitter, chopped one to first baseman Rowdy Dove, who hesitated, didn’t throw home and by the time he looked at first Achter was safe and Sitkowski had scored.
Next up was Nolan Skowronek, who hit a hot grounder to third. The ball was misplayed, allowing Flaten to score the tying run, but courtesy-runner Grant Mattes, trying to score from second, was gunned down at home for the second out of the inning.
That brought up Rudy Strnad with runners on first and third. Strnad grounded hard to third, but John Cahill, thinking a force play was in order, stepped on the bag, only to realize there was no force play, which allowed Achter to score the go-ahead run. Skowronek had rounded third, but was caught too far off the bag and was tagged out by Cahill to end the inning.
“That was a crazy inning, but that’s baseball,” said Sitkowski, who capped a big tournament with two hits and two runs. “Just when you think you’ve seen it all, there’s an inning like that. That’s what makes this sport so great.”
The Comets tried to rally in the top of the ninth as an error by the Jimmies and single from Bryan Jacklitch put runners on first and second with one out.
It also summoned Jimmie closer Nick Smart to face the Comets’ No. 3 and 4 hitters. Smart, the hard-throwing senior from Colorado, got Kidder to ground out to second on a nice play by Skowronek, putting runners on second and third with two outs. Smart struck out the hard-hitting John Pistulka on three pitches to end it — two fastballs and a biting curveball. It was the second straight season Smart earned a save in the tournament championship game.
“There are a few butterflies, but you have to use it, channel it to your advantage,” Smart said. “You just have to execute your pitches that you’ve been working on forever and forever. That’s my job. I just had to do my job.”
He certainly did, drawing praise from Hager.
“That’s just what he does. Big situations like that aren’t too big for him,” Hager said. “He came up huge.”
He also didn’t want to walk Pistulka.
“When Hager came out the mound I told him, ‘I got him,’ ” said Smart, who earned his fourth save. “(Pistulka) is a great hitter. It was a challenge. That’s what it’s all about.”
Sheeley got the win, working 2-plus scoreless innings. Hager also praised Dahl, who was named the league’s pitcher of the year.
“(Tanner) battled. Obviously, that was not the start any of us were looking for, but he hung in there and kept us in the game and then Ryan Sheeley did what he’s been doing all year,” Hager said. “Mayville has a very good team. They’re hard to hold down, but fortunately our guys were able to get some really big out in key spots.”
The Jimmies had 13 hits. Flaten went 3-for-4, while Sitkowski, Skowronek and Marcus Blackmon Jr., each had two hits.
Jacklitch had four of the Comets’ 11 hits. Kidder and Cahill had two each. Mayville State (40-14) is in good position to receive one of the 16 at-large bids into the tournament.
Pairings for the 45-team national tournament, featuring nine host sites, will be released Friday.