VALLEY CITY, N.D. – Splitting a pair of hard-fought decisions, the Waldorf University baseball team concluded the season in the North Star Athletic Association (NSAA) Tournament on Saturday.
The Warriors (19-37) kept their season alive, scoring a 5-4 victory over Viterbo University (12-36) while opening the day in an elimination game.
Waldorf's season came to a close following a 9-3 loss to Mayville State University (43-10), which is ranked No. 22 in the latest National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) poll.
Junior Riley MacDonald and sophomore Garrett Gillen both went 2-for-5 with a double to lead the Warriors past the V-Hawks. Sophomore Jimmy Quirk provided a single and pushed in a run. Waldorf collected eight hits, receiving singles from senior Michael Keeran, juniors Eric Mallo and Jacob Tedesco. Senior Bruce Mau turned in two RBIs while driving in the go-ahead run.
Viterbo's Sean Russell finished 2-for-5 with an RBI single. Ethan Bell added a two-run triple for the V-Hawks, who were held to five hits.
Michael Keeran (6-8) earned the win, tossing three scoreless innings of relief without giving up a hit. He struck out one batter and walked two.
Senior Trevor Bauer started on the mound for the Warriors. He notched two strikeouts, issued five walks and yielded four runs on five hits in six innings.
"We got a quality start from Trevor going six innings and Michael coming in for the last three," Waldorf coach Joe Tautges said. "It wasn't ideal having to use Michael, but Trevor's pitch count was over 100 pitches and it was a win-or-go-home [situation] and you have to take it one game at a time."
Wyatt Cook (0-3) was saddled with the loss. He recorded two strikeouts, two walks and gave up one run on two hits in three innings.
Max Verdegan started for the V-Hawks and exited after five innings. He fanned three, walked four and surrendered four runs on four hits. Following Cook's three-inning relief appearance, Austin Stibbe pitched the ninth inning for Viterbo and allowed two hits.
The V-Hawks threatened in the bottom of the fourth. Mannie De La Rosa got aboard with a leadoff single and Bell was hit by a pitch. Bauer retired the next two batters, but Noah Bouley was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Working his way out of a jam, Bauer forced Myles Sandeen to pop out to second base.
Viterbo finally broke through with a four-run fifth. Two walks and a hit batter loaded the bases with no outs. De La Rosa tied the game with an RBI sacrifice fly. Bell followed with a two-run triple and Russell capped the inning with an RBI single to give the V-Hawks a 4-1 run lead.
Waldorf answered with three runs in the top of the sixth, all coming on bases-loaded walks. MacDonald smacked a leadoff double, senior Ryan Villarreal drew a walk and sophomore Mitchell Keeran was hit by a pitch to load the bases with no outs. Quirk and junior Joey Ponder drew consecutive bases-loaded walks to score first two runs of the inning. With one out and the bases still loaded, Mau walked to send home the tying run.
A hit and three straight bunts lifted the Warriors in the eighth. Mallo belted a leadoff single to center field and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt from Ponder. Tedesco beat out a bunt single, allowing Mallo to advance to third. Mallo scored the go-ahead run when Mau laid down a bunt that resulted in a fielding error.
"We did a good job of executing bunts to score a couple of runs late in the game to give us the lead," Tautges said.
Michael Keeran finished 3-for-5 with a triple in the season-ending loss to Mayville State while Gillen finished 2-for-4 with an RBI single. Junior Miguel Castro, MacDonald, Villarreal and Tedesco contributed singles to help Waldorf to nine hits.
Jonathan Folena led the Comets, going 3-for-5 with a run-scoring single. Drake Yoshioka turned in two hits while producing an RBI single. Nolan Handley delivered a two-run triple, Evyn Yamaguchi added an RBI double, Mason Swegarden connected for a double while Dondrei Hubbard drove in two runs in Mayville State's 11-hit attack.
Swegarden (3-0) claimed the win, closing out the game with seven and one-third scoreless innings. He punched out seven batters, walked two and limited the Warriors to two hits.
"Swegarden did a great job coming out of the bullpen," Tautges said. "We just couldn't get anything going offensively against him to get some momentum on our side."
Conner DiNaro received the start for the Comets, lasting one and two-thirds innings. He struck out one, walked one and allowed three runs on seven hits.
Michael Keeran was handed the loss. He tallied three strikeouts, issued three walks and relinquished six runs (two earned) on six hits while relieving the final three innings.
Quirk started on the hill for Waldorf and worked through six innings. He recorded one strikeout, two walks and yielded three runs (two earned) on five hits.
The Warriors were hampered by six errors, which led to five unearned runs.
"We jumped out to an early three-run lead in the first inning and Jimmy [Quirk] gave us six good innings, but errors just killed us," Tautges said.
Waldorf started fast, building a 3-0 lead with four straight hits in the bottom of the first. Michael Keeran legged out a leadoff triple. Gillen followed with an RBI single. MacDonald singled and Villarreal reached on a bunt single to load the bases. Quirk knocked in a run on a fielder's choice and Mallo later scored on a passed ball.
Zachary Schwieters put Mayville State on the board with a second-inning RBI sac fly.
The Warriors threatened in the second as they stranded two runners, including one on third. They left a runner on third once again during the following inning.
"If we could've pushed a couple more runs across in the second or third inning, it would have really changed the complexion of the game," Tautges said. "It was very tough for us and especially for our seniors to lose this way."
The Comets tied the game with two runs in the fifth. Folena cracked an RBI single and Hubbard contributed an RBI sac fly.
In a game that looked like it was going down to the wire, Mayville State pulled away with a five-run eighth. Swegarden put the Comets in business with a leadoff double. Riley Nelson reached on a fielding error as Swegarden advanced to third. Yoshioka singled in the go-ahead run. Folena drew an intentional walk to load the bases. Nygaard laced an RBI single, Hubbard drove in a run on a sac fly and Handley drilled a two-run triple to boost Mayville State to an 8-3 lead.
Yamaguchi doubled in the final run for the Comets during the ninth.
Mayville State advances to Sunday's NSAA Tournament Bracket B championship game against Valley City State University (27-24). The Comets will need to defeat the Vikings twice with Valley City State still without a loss in the double-elimination tournament. Game 2, if necessary, will be held on Monday in Valley City. The winner of the Bracket B championship game will play in the NSAA championship on Monday.
The loss ended the Waldorf careers of Tony Manna, Michael Keeran, Dean Mick, Kellan Mick, Dave Erickson, Bauer, Mau and Villarreal. Michael Keeran is set to compete for the Ozark Generals in the MINK League this summer. Bauer, Erickson and Villarreal will play for the Fort McMurray Giants in the Western Major Baseball League (WMBL), which is Canada's premier collegiate summer league.
Waldorf's seniors helped to steadily raise the program's level of success each season. Nineteen victories this year marked the most wins for the Warriors since the 2012 campaign.
"I will always remember this group of seniors as they have really helped to get the program going in the right direction," Tautges said. "They will definitely be missed."
Looking ahead to next season, Waldorf has positions to solidify in the outfield, at first base and also in the starting pitching rotation. Quirk will be expected to be one of the team's top starters on the mound.
"Jimmy [Quirk] really stepped up in the starter role this year and we look for him to continue going into next year and a few more guys that could step into that role as well," Tautges said.
Twenty returners are back in the fold for the Warriors next season, along with a promising incoming recruiting class. Though it wasn't the finish Waldorf had in mind this year, there's a positive outlook moving ahead as the team prepares for the 2018 campaign.
"We might experiment moving some guys around to different positions and see how they adjust in the fall," Tautges said. "As bad as we feel right now as coaches, we are excited for the guys who will be returning and the guys that we will be bringing in."