By Jim Rueda
Free Press Sports Editor
Minnesota State head baseball coach Matt Magers is well aware that, with the postseason just around the corner, he needs to have his team’s pitching staff in good shape.
On Tuesday, in a doubleheader against Concordia-St. Paul at the MSU field, Magers rolled out four pitchers and all performed well. The result was a sweep of the Golden Bears by scores of 8-1 and 9-0.
“We needed to see what we have in case we have to call on them in the playoffs,” Magers said. “That’s how we found Jason Hoppe last year, and he became one of our best starters.”
Tuesday’s first pitcher of the day was T.J. Larson. The reliever from a year ago earned a starting spot this season and now has a 6-0 record.
“We wanted him to be a starter because he has the ability to throw his breaking ball over for a strike on a hitter’s count,” Magers said. “He’s developed a pretty nice slider and changeup, too. He’s one of the guys we’re going to need going forward.”
Larson tossed 52⁄3 innings in the opening game, allowing one earned run on six hits, striking out one and walking three.
“I just wanted to let them hit the ball and let my defense make plays,” Larson said. “I wasn’t going for strikeouts, but I wanted to throw strikes. The defense did a great job behind me.”
While Larson was retiring the Bears, the MSU offense was capitalizing on 11 hits, four walks, four hit batsmen and one Concordia error to pull away. Leading 5-0 after four innings, the Mavericks put the game away with a three-run fifth.
A bases-loaded double by Nolan Johnson was the key blow. Johnson finished 3 for 3 with four RBIs and two runs scored.
“Nolan has just been so steady for us this year,” Magers said. “He’s not intimidating when you see his stance or when you see him swing, but he comes through for us again and again. He’s just so fundamentally sound.”
Connor McCallum had two hits in four trips for MSU. The Mavericks’ Chris Williams pitched to one batter in the sixth, and then Tony Vocca closed out the game with a perfect seventh.
MSU’s stellar pitching continued in Game 2 as Josh Matheson tossed six shutout innings to get the win. He allowed just one hit, fanned four and walked one. Williams added two scoreless innings, and Mahlon Zimmermann tossed a 1-2-3 ninth with two strikeouts.
Lucas Skjefte and Todd Standish led the MSU attack with two hits apiece. Skjefte had a two-run single in the eighth. Parker Sullivan and Mike Andries added RBI doubles.
The sweep improves MSU to 31-8 overall and 20-4 in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference. The Mavericks begin four-game series at Truman State on Saturday in Kirksville, Mo.