NORTHFIELD, Minn. (5/16/21)---A second consecutive late-game, unanswered-run streak propelled Concordia into the MIAC playoffs on Sunday. The Cobbers scored seven consecutive runs in the eighth and ninth innings and outscored St. Olaf 8-1.
On Saturday, the Cobbers scored eight unanswered runs to beat the Oles 8-6 and they nearly duplicated that feat with seven unanswered on Sunday. The victory in the second game of the MIAC Round of 12, best-of-3 series advances Concordia to the play-in round of the conference tournament. It will be the first MIAC playoff appearance since the 2015 season.
The Cobbers and Oles finished off their series by playing a third game after Concordia's playoff-clinching win. CC had a pair of 3-run innings in the final game of the regular season but allowed the Oles to score in six of the nine innings and lost 10-8.
Concordia heads in to the postseason with a 17-18 overall record.
The playoff clincher belonged to the pitchers for the first six innings. Sophomore Ashwin Stratton held St. Olaf off the board until the offense could come alive. Stratton allowed only three hits in the first five innings. The key to Stratton's success was his ability to close out an innings. The Oles had runners on third base with two outs in the frame on two occasions and both times he got the final out without allowing a run. Stratton didn't allow a hit with two outs as the Oles were 0-for-6 in that situation in the first six innings.
Both teams got on the board with single runs in the seventh inning. Concordia opened the scoring when sophomore Justin Kloster posted a 1-out, ground-rule double. Dawson Leer, who was making only his second start of the season at second base, followed with a single to left field to plate Kloster and give CC a 1-0 lead.
St. Olaf would answer the Cobbers' opening salvo with a single run in the bottom of the inning. They were able to get runners on first and second with two outs in the inning. Luke Levasseur took over on the mound as Stratton's pitch count had reached 90. St. Olaf was able to come up with a seeing-eye single through the right side of the infield to tie the game.
Concordia started their late-game, unanswered-run streak by putting up two runs on two hits in the eighth. Thomas Horan singled to left center with one out and then advanced to second on a wild pitch. Sean McGuire was intentionally walked with two outs which allowed senior Ben Swanson to drive in the playoff-clinching run with a single to center field. Horan scored the game-winning run and was followed by McGuire who was able to come home all the way from first after an error in the outfield.
The Cobbers put the game out of reach in the top of the ninth when they scored five, 2-out runs. Catcher Toby Sayles doubled with one out and then stayed a second on an infield pop out. Matt Gruber started the merry-go-round of runs when he singled home Sayles. Gruber moved up to second on the throw to the plate and then scored when Horan singled to right center in the very next at-bat.
Andy Gravdahl's 4-pitch walk sent Horan to second. McGuire then coaxed a 5-pitch walk which loaded the bases. Swanson came through with his second clutch single in as many innings and both Horan and Gravdahl scored on the play. Kloster finished off the 5-spot when he poked and 0-2 pitch up the middle for a base hit which allowed McGuire to stroll home with the eighth run of the game for CC.
Levasseur allowed a 2-out double in the ninth but then finished off the game by recording a 4-pitch strikeout.
Levasseur pitched the final 2.1 innings to pick up his fourth win of the year. He allowed two hits and struck out a pair in his scoreless stint.
Stratton did the bulk f the work for CC on Sunday. His final stat line read: 6.1 innings pitched, 6 hits allowed, 1 earned run and three strikeouts.
The Cobbers outhit the Oles 12-8 in the first game on Sunday. CC had five players with multiple-hit games. Horan led the way with a 3-for-5 outing which upped his season average to .321.
Gruber, Swanson, Kloster and Leer all had 2-hit afternoons. Swanson was 2-for-4 with three RBI, while Gruber, Kloster and Leer all drove in one run in the game.
The teams decided to play the second game on the day to get more playing experience for the players on the season.
The Cobbers took a 3-1 lead in the top of the second but then fell behind 8-4 in the fifth. CC got to within a pair of runs by scoring three times in the seventh, and then the Oles iced the game with single runs in the bottom of the seventh and eighth innings.
Both teams had 13 hits in the nightcap. Noah Pilon led all players with three hits as he went 3-for-5 and drove in a run. Canaan Fagerland and Chrisanto D'Agostino both went 2-for-5 and had a double. Fagerland also drove in a run. Jake McKeever had one hit in the game but it was a triple that drove in a run in the third inning.
Concordia used five pitchers in Game 2. Gabe Duncan and Pilon both had scoreless outings. Both pitchers pitched one full inning. Duncan allowed a single infield hit in the fourth while Pilon got out of a 1st-and-3rd jam with one out in the sixth by getting a strikeout and a pop fly to shortstop.
BATTLE AT THE TOP: McGuire and Gruber are locked in a battle for the team batting title. McGuire, who went hitless on Sunday, leads the team with a .358 average while Gruber is close behind at .355. McGuire has a 49-44 lead in total hits.
GRAVDAHL GOES JORDAN: Gravdahl extended his on-base streak on Sunday. He didn't have a hit but earned a walk in his final AB in the ninth inning and has now reached safely in 23 straight games.
THE FORCE IS STRONG WITH THIS ONE: Levasseur recorded his third scoreless outing in his last four appearances. He has only allowed an earned run in one of his last seven outings. During the course of those last seven appearances, he has pitched in 15.0 innings, had a 1.80 ERA, allowed only three extra-base hits (all doubles) and his season ERA drop from 6.23 to 3.86.
UP NEXT: Concordia will head to Winona for their playoff play-in game. The Cobbers, who enter the MIAC postseason as the No.6 seed, will face No.3 seed St. Mary's on Wednesday, May 19 at 3 p.m. The Cardinals finished the year with a 25-13 overall record and a 16-9 mark in league play.