Bison notch first home victory
After snow delayed the North Dakota State baseball team’s home opener one final time, the Bison were finally able to welcome an opponent to Newman Outdoor Field.
That the opponent came in the form of an Oral Roberts squad that owns the last four Summit League titles made for a difficult opening series for NDSU.
The Bison were defeated Friday night by a score of 8-7, then fell in the first half of Saturday’s doubleheader 11-5.
However, the Bison were able to dodge the sweep thanks to a walk-off single from Tucker Rohde in the back half of the doubleheader.
NDSU found themselves in an early hole in Friday’s opener as starter Zach Smith labored through the first four innings. Smith loaded the bases in the second inning after a pair of singles and a four-pitch walk. With no outs, his defense let him down. Left fielder Jayse McLean dropped a fly ball that allowed the opening run to score. The Golden Eagles tacked on a second run via a sacrifice fly in the following at-bat before Smith retired the side.
ORU added a third run in the fourth inning, but the Bison rallied in the bottom half of the frame. Bennett Hostetler drove in a run with a sacrifice, and Peter Brookshaw tied the game with a two-run single in the subsequent at-bat.
The game was knotted at three, but Oral Roberts quickly retook the lead in the fifth. In relief of Smith, Mitch O’Connor put away the first two batters he faced. A run-scoring triple and single from Hunter Swift and Riley Keizor put NDSU behind again.
O’Connor surrendered two more runs in the sixth, but again NDSU rallied with a run in the seventh and two in the eighth. Jake Malec lined a two-out single in the ninth inning that brought the Bison within one, but Hostetler was unable to drive in the tying run.
In the second game of the series, freshman southpaw Max Loven spun a gem, but the NDSU bullpen couldn’t bring the game over the finish line. Loven tallied 11 strikeouts across 8 1/3 innings of work.
The Bison scored all five of their runs in the fifth inning. Brock Anderson worked a bases-loaded walk to drive in the first run, then singles from Sean Noel and McLean each added a pair.
It looked as if the scoring would be sufficient for Loven, who cruised through eight innings. In the top of the ninth, everything deteriorated for the Bison, though.
Loven got a quick out, but was removed after giving up a single. Manager Tod Brown turned to Parker Harm, and Harm was shelled in short order. Harm threw 21 balls on 40 pitches in the process of giving up seven runs on merely two hits. Gabe Pilla cleaned up the mess, but it was far too late for the Bison.
Because he threw 39 pitches the day prior, de facto closer Jordan Harms was unavailable in relief. Brown opted for Harm, though he would have been prudent to make the switch prior to the start of the dismal ninth. Loven had thrown 113 pitches entering the inning and was in the midst of his fourth trip through the Golden Eagles’ lineup, often fatal for young pitchers.
Though he missed out on a win, Loven posted a masterful performance, one which is the highlight of his nascent collegiate career. Even as a freshman, Loven is one of the Summit League’s top hurlers, posting the conference’s best strikeout-to-walk ratios, striking out 6.7 batters for every walk. He also ranks second with a 2.86 earned run average.
The Bison escaped with a win in the final game, closing a sour weekend on a positive note. Trailing 4-2 entering the seventh inning, NDSU needed a late spark. That came quietly as a result of a wild pitch, two walks and a fielding error which narrowed the deficit to one. A single from Jack Simonsen drove in Brookshaw to tie the game. Tucker Rodhe pinch hit for Carter Thompson and delivered a two-run single, turning the two-run gap into a two-run lead.
The lead was again short-lived. Harms limped through the top of the eighth, coughing up NDSU’s lead in the process. Rodhe was able to bail out his pitcher, but it didn’t come without help from ORU hurler Trey Wolf.
With McLean at first base and Rodhe batting, Wolf threw two wild pitches, moving McLean to third base. Rodhe drove in the winning run with a hard-struck liner to second base.
NDSU moved to 10-19 on the season with an 8-10 record in Summit League play. The Bison are currently fifth in the conference standings, chasing Western Illinois for the fourth and final spot in the conference tournament. The two teams will square off this weekend at Newman Outdoor Field.