By Jim Rueda
Free Press Sports Editor
Minnesota State catcher Nolan Johnson knows it’s probably a little early to start looking at matchups as must-win situations, but he also knows the Mavericks are sitting a lot better after sweeping Augustana over the last three days.
MSU completed the sweep on Monday, scoring 10 times in the final two innings to earn a 15-5 win over the Vikings at the MSU field. The game was called after eight innings due to the 10-run rule.
“You’re always looking at winning at least three out of four every weekend,” Johnson said. “But after we were inconsistent in our first few conference series we were looking for the sweep against Augustana. We played well and beat a pretty good team.”
The four-game sweep of the Vikings puts the Mavericks in fourth place in the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference standings. More importantly, it keeps MSU within striking distance of league leader St. Cloud State (10-0).
“I think just being able to play at home was a big key for us,” Johnson said. “We’ve had to take a lot of long bus rides to play home games recently so it’s nice to be able to stay on campus and play baseball.”
Johnson had a big day Monday, going 4 for 5 with a double, a triple and two RBIs. The performance moved him up to second place in team batting average with a .376 mark. He leads the club in slugging percentage at .671.
“I’m seeing the ball pretty well right now,” Johnson said. “I like being in the 3, 4 or 5 spot in the order where I get a chance to drive in some runs.”
Monday’s game was tied at 5 after 61⁄2 innings before the MSU attack came to life. The Mavericks loaded the bases in front of designated hitter Mike Andries, who promptly stroked a double down the left-field line for two RBIs.
Lucas Skjefte and Parker Sullivan capped the rally with run-scoring singles, putting MSU ahead 9-5. In the eighth, Andries got the scoring started again with a two-run single to right.
Todd Standish drew a bases-loaded walk a short time later before Sullivan smacked a two-run base hit to right. The game ended when Jon Flattery grounded out to first to drive in Standish with the 15th run.
MSU head coach Matt Magers said the team is fortunate to have a player of Johnson’s ability behind the plate.
“He’s hitting the ball well and he’s doing a very good job defensively,” Magers said. “He started all last year so he knows our pitchers pretty well. He knows their strengths and weaknesses.”
Andries, the team’s back-up catcher, is also hitting well. He was 2 for 5 Monday with four RBIs.
Sullivan finished 2 for 4 with three RBIs and Connor McCallum was 3 for 4 with three runs scored to extend his hitting streak to 10 games.
Tyler Sparger got the win for MSU in relief. He pitched 11⁄3innings, allowed two hits and walked two. Nick Sutherland started and went 41⁄3 innings before getting relieved by Josh Matheson.
The Mavericks (22-7) are scheduled to return to action Wednesday with a doubleheader against Upper Iowa. Starting time is 1:30 p.m. at the MSU field.