Pitching & Defense Lead To DII Sweep

Junior pitcher Zack Nelson allowed just three hits and helped the Cobbers post a 3-2 win over DII Concordia-St. Paul in the first game of the doubleheader sweep.
Junior pitcher Zack Nelson allowed just three hits and helped the Cobbers post a 3-2 win over DII Concordia-St. Paul in the first game of the doubleheader sweep.

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. (3/11/17)--- The old baseball adage states that "pitching and defense" wins championships". If that holds true then the early returns from Concordia's last four games could to a title run later in the season.

For the second and third times in the last four games the Cobbers rode the arms of unheralded pitchers and played spectacular defense to post upset wins over established programs.

On Friday Fletcher Andel five-hit No.5-ranked Wis.-Whitewater to help Concordia post a 2-1 win in the opener of the team's doubleheader. On Saturday the Cobbers did that feat one win better as Zack Nelson and Austin Ver Steeg combined to hold NCAA Division II opponent Concordia-St. Paul to only two runs on six hits as the Cobbers swept the Golden Bears 3-2 and 2-0.

The sweep over Concordia-St. Paul pushes the Cobbers' record to over .500 for the second time this season as they are now 7-6 on the year. The Golden Bears, who split with St. Cloud State – who was ranked 17th in Division II at the time – are now 6-6 on the year.

Nelson started the opener and was merely trying to lower his season ERA from 9.45. He not only lowered his ERA but also picked up his first win since his freshman season in 2015.

Nelson was aided by one of the biggest web gems in recent history for the Cobbers as sophomore shortstop Nate Hoeft made a run-saving play in the bottom of the first from the seat of his pants. With runners on second and third and two outs, Hoeft made a diving snare of a ball hit to his left. The ball was labeled for the outfield which would have scored two runs. He then had the presence of mind to roll over and throw the ball to first base from a sitting position. His arm-only throw nipped the batter on a bang-bang play at the base.

The big defensive stop gave Concordia the momentum in the game and it would be Hoeft who would drive in two of the team's three runs in the game.

Hoeft gave Concordia a 1-0 lead in the second inning when his single up the middle scored Nate Leintz who led off the inning with a one-base knock to right field.

Nelson's only stumble in the game came in the sixth inning when he gave up two runs on two hits. Only one of the runs was earned as CC made their only error in their three wins on the weekend in the frame.

The Cobbers quickly responded in the bottom half of the inning as they traded two-run innings. Cody Rahman led off with a double and then tied the game when Hoeft singled to right. Chad Johnson then hit a long fly ball to right field which scored Brett Swanson from third for the game-winning run.

Senior Joe Hallock came on in relief in the seventh inning and retired three straight batters after walking the leadoff man.

Nelson finished his first win of the year by allowing three hits, three walks and striking out four.

Concordia outhit the Golden Bears 8-3 in Game 1. Hoeft and Rahman were the only two CC players with more than one hit in the game.  Johnson, Hallock, Leintz and Ver Steeg all had single base hits in the opener.

Ver Steeg then stepped to the hill and outdid Nelson as he didn't allow a run and went the full seven innings in the finale. He also held the Golden Bears to just three hits and walked three and struck out four.

Ver Steeg only allowed runners to get into scoring position on three occasions. Each time that Concordia-St. Paul advanced a runner to second base there were two outs in the inning. And each time Ver Steeg was able to get the next batter to hold the Golden Bears to 0-for-3 with runners in scoring position.

The only real jam of the game came in the second when the Golden bears loaded the bases on a two-out walk but then Ver Steeg came back to get the next hitter on a force play at third base.

The Cobbers scored single runs in the third and sixth innings. Johnson drove home the opening run when he smacked a one-out single to left field which scored Swanson from third base.

The insurance run in the sixth came when Turner Storm singled down the left field line and Grant Toivonen scored from second base.

CC held a 7-3 edge in hits in Game 2. Toivonen had the only multi-hit game for the Cobbers in the nightcap.

RAD ROOKIE: Freshman Austin Ver Steeg hasn't taken long to get used to the college game. He leads the pitching staff in ERA and opponent's batting average and is tied for the lead in wins. He lowered his ERA to 1.29 on Saturday and opponents are hitting only .212 against him. He is now 2-1 on the year and has a WHIP (walks + hits divided by innings pitched) of 1.00. Last year only four MLB pitchers had a WHIP of less than 1.00.

MARCH CHADNESS: It's never too early to start a March Chadness feature. The junior center fielder went 1-for-3 with an RBI in each game of the double dip with the Golden Bears. He now has reached base in a team-high six straight games.

MULTI-HIT MEN: Cody Rahman and Grant Toivonen both had multi-hit games in Game 2 on Saturday and both lead the team with four multiple-hit games this season. Toivonen leads the team in hitting with a .342 average.

WHAT'S NEXT: Concordia will now have an 18-day break before hosting their home opener on Wednesday, Mar. 29 against Jamestown. The Jimmies swept the Cobbers in the season-opening doubleheader at US Bank Stadium. Jamestown is currently 14-7 on the season.