Moves into fourth in Summit League standings
With only three series remaining in the Summit League season, the time is now for the North Dakota State baseball team to move up in the standings. They accomplished just that this past weekend, taking two of three from Western Illinois.
The Leathernecks got the better of NDSU under the lights at Newman Outdoor Field on Friday night, winning 7-2. The Leathernecks scratched across a run in the top of the first inning, but the Bison countered in the bottom half of the frame when Bennett Hostetler scored on a fielder’s choice.
That was about all the offense the Bison could muster, save for Jake Malec’s run-scoring single in the fifth inning. WIU starter Jace Warkentien quieted the Bison’s bats, striking out 10 batters while allowing only six baserunners.
Bison starter Zach Smith gave up a trio of runs in both the third and eighth innings. Smith has struggled lately, giving up at least three runs in each of his past six outings. In the span, his earned run average has risen by two runs to 5.50.
NDSU rebounded for a 7-1 win in the first half of Saturday’s doubleheader thanks to another brilliant pitching performance from freshman Max Loven.
The lone blemish came after surrendering a double and a single in the third inning. Loven otherwise cruised, allowing a total of six baserunners. The Brooklyn Park, Minnesota native pitched his second complete game of the season on an economical 111 pitches.
Run support wasn’t in short supply for Loven. The heart of the Bison order, catcher Sean Noel and right fielder Jack Simonsen delivered four RBIs and combined for five hits.
The breakout for NDSU came in the bottom of the fifth inning with a slim one-run lead. The Bison cobbled together a two-out rally with consecutive singles from Noel, Simonsen, Tucker Rohde and Carter Thompson. The resulting three runs were more than enough breathing room for the dominant Loven. The outing reduced his already sterling ERA to 2.60.
NDSU sealed the series victory Saturday evening in a tight 8-7 win.
The Leathernecks got to Bison starter Ben Smith right away in the first inning, with Kevin Raisbeck doubling in the opening at-bat. He came around to score via a single off the bat of Alex Dorethy, giving WIU an early lead.
The Bison were quick to respond, however, grabbing the lead in the bottom of the frame. Singles from Hostetler and Peter Brookshaw put WIU hurler Jack Carberry in an early jam. Brock Anderson made him pay with a bases-clearing double, and NDSU scored two runs in their first three at-bats.
The Bison continued to build their lead in the middle innings. Carberry loaded the bases in the third inning. Noel drove in a run with a fielder’s choice, Simonsen added another on a single and Rohde plated one more with a double.
NDSU’s lead grew to five runs in the bottom of the fourth on a Brock Anderson ground ball. WIU attempted the inning-ending double play, but Anderson’s speed kept the inning alive and brought home Malec.
Western Illinois went to the bullpen in the fifth inning, but couldn’t stop the bleeding. NDSU capitalized on another bases-loaded situation via a walk from Malec and sacrifice fly from Hostetler.
Meanwhile, Smith locked down the Leathernecks. He was aided by timely ground balls, four of which were turned into back-breaking double plays. Smith departed after the sixth inning with the Bison leading by a score of 8-2, a win seemingly a formality.
With positioning in the standings on the line, Western Illinois would not go quietly. Alec Holcomb came in to relieve Smith, but struggled mightily after getting a fast out. Holcomb conceded a walk and a pair of singles, after which Jordan Harms came in to clean up the mess.
Harms was no better. He notched a three-pitch strikeout, then lost control, walking three straight batters and throwing a wild pitch. Parker Harm was brought in to limit the damage and was able to do so, getting a strikeout. The damage was indeed done though, with the lead cut to two runs.
Harm blanked the Leathernecks in the top of the eighth with a pair of strikeouts, but there was more late drama in the top of the ninth. WIU pushed across a two-out run, but Harm buckled down to get his second save of the year.
The series moved the Bison’s record to 13-20 and 10-11 in conference play. The two teams are vying for the fourth and final spot in the Summit League tournament. NDSU took a positive step in that endeavor, as winning the season series secured them the tiebreaker should the two teams find themselves knotted when the dust settles.
NDSU will head to Minneapolis to face Minnesota at 6 p.m. Tuesday before welcoming conference-leading Omaha to Fargo over the weekend.