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Leslie has a ball throwing

St. Thomas into World Series

  

By Doug Hennes

 

OSHKOSH, Wis. – University of St. Thomas senior Dan Leslie walked up to Coach Dennis Denning last Saturday, moments after throwing a shutout that launched the Tommies into the NCAA Division III World Series. Leslie handed his coach the ball that he received for earning a spot on the regional all-tournament team.

“Want my ball, coach?” Leslie asked.

“No, no – it’s yours,” Denning replied. “It’s a memento.”

“I have my memento right up here,” Leslie said, smiling and tapping an index finger to his head.

Denning flipped him the ball anyway.

The exchange occurred after the Tommies had collected their hardware and an 11-2 and 5-0 doubleheader sweep of St. Olaf, which had entered the game with the tournament’s only perfect record of 3-0.

The championship game victory was particularly sweet for Leslie, a senior from Henry Sibley High School. He was a starting pitcher and third baseman for the Tommies his first two seasons, but arm trouble limited him to only a couple of mound appearances last year and – until Saturday – none this year.

 

Pitching a ‘plus-plus’

St. Thomas has been thin on pitching all season because of a series of injuries, and Leslie knew it. He told Denning and pitching coach Chris Olean that he wanted the ball on Saturday. Denning was leaning toward starting freshman Bryce Gapinski, a winner over St. Scholastica Thursday night, and Olean liked the idea of giving Leslie his shot right away.

“I thought Dan would be better in a relief role, for two or three innings, because he hadn’t pitched all year,” Denning said. “Nobody expected him to be able to do this. He is one big-time player.”

Leslie scattered seven hits and threw 110 pitches, 70 for strikes. The Oles had runners on base in six innings but Leslie stranded them all, aided by three double plays.

“My two-seam fastball was working well, and the wind helped out a bit, too,” Leslie said. “I didn’t feel rusty at all. It was huge to get the five runs early. They gave me a little wiggle room.”

Those five runs came in the second inning. Roy Larson singled and moved to third on a one-out double by Ben Wartman. Larson scored on a Louie Salmen groundout and Tim Kahle’s single brought in Wartman. After Matt McQuillan reached base on a two-out error, Matt Olson hit a three-run homer to left-center.

“He (Oles pitcher Todd Mathison) threw me a fastball low but in the middle of the plate,” Olson said. “I hit it well, and because of the wind I knew right away it was going out.”

Mathison settled down and, despite allowing Tommies to reach base in every inning but the seventh, kept the score at 5-0. The Oles couldn’t put a dent in Leslie, however, and fell short in their quest to reach the Division III national tournament for the first time.

St. Thomas earned a spot in the title game with the earlier 11-2 defeat of St. Olaf. Another big inning – a nine-run sixth – eased the way for junior ace Matt Schuld, who picked up his 10th win of the year (and third over St. Olaf). Schuld came back from Wednesday’s 12-inning, 168-pitch performance against Wisconsin-Stevens Point and threw another seven innings and 118 pitches.

“I felt really tired right from the beginning,” Schuld said. “I didn’t have a lot on my fastball, and I tried to keep them off balance with changeups. I figured if I could get through seven with the lead, we’d be okay. I didn’t have much left in the tank in the end.”

The Tommies held only a 2-1 lead going into the sixth, when they scored nine runs on seven hits, including a three-run home run by tournament MVP Taylor Rahm and a solo homer by Roy Larson.

“It all came together the last two days,” Denning said of Saturday’s doubleheader win and John Licht’s 6-0 shutout of Stevens Point on Friday. “Our hitting was a plus, our pitching was a plus-plus and our defense was outstanding. I’m so happy for these guys.”

Leslie wore perhaps the biggest smile, and not just because he won the title game in his first start in two years. His dad, Tim, suffered a concussion and separated shoulder when he fell from the bleachers 10 feet to asphalt on Thursday night after a railing broke, and he returned to the stands for the Friday and Saturday games.

“Dad’s a little roughed up, but he made it through,” Leslie said. “He’s a tough guy, too.”