OREM, Utah – Top-seed Utah Valley punched its ticket to Saturday’s Championship Game of the Great West Conference Tournament with a 15-4 victory over No. 6 seed North Dakota on Thursday at Brent Brown Ballpark.
The Wolverines (46-12) broke open a 1-0 contest in the fourth with four runs and added four more in the sixth and three in the seventh to help earn a trip to their third straight tournament title game. The Sioux (19-36) bats came to life a little too late in this one as they were held off the board by UVU starter Preston Olson until the fifth.
The loss snapped a season-long, five-game winning streak for UND, but the Sioux kept their tournament title hopes alive and will await the winner of the elimination game between No. 4 seed Northern Colorado and No. 5 seed Houston Baptist. The Huskies and Bears will play Friday afternoon with the winner playing directly afterwards against the Fighting Sioux at 7 p.m. CT.
“We just got beat tonight – that is the bottom line,” UND head coach Jeff Dodson said. “Their pitcher did a better job tonight than he did against us in the regular season and really threw the ball well. We just could not make the adjustments. We will have to play a lot better tomorrow if we are going to make it to Saturday and have another chance against these guys.”
UVU right-hander Preston Olson improved to 8-0 on the season after holding UND to two earned runs on five hits in 5.1 innings of work. Third baseman Jake Rickenbach led a 15-hit attack by the Wolverines, who have now won 38 of their last 39 games. Rickenbach finished with four hits and four RBI, while first baseman Goose Kallunki went 2-for-4 with a three-run homer. He increased his nation-leading RBI total to 86 with five in the contest.
Sophomore Zack Trygstad (Wayzata, Minn.) had three of UND’s nine hits, but the Sioux could never put together a big inning off three different UVU pitchers. Trygstad had a RBI single, while junior Kris Kwak (Maple Grove, Minn.) and freshman Sam Alt (Lino Lakes, Minn.) each had two hits and a RBI apiece in the contest.
Kwak drove in UND’s first run of the game in the fifth with a single and extended his hitting streak to 12 games as he reached base four times in the contest. Alt had a RBI-triple in the sixth, which was the first three-base hit of his career.
UND starter Tyler Ruemmele was effective early and escaped the big inning until the fourth when UVU scored four runs on four hits off the Sioux right-hander.
Those runs in the fourth made it a 5-0 lead for the Wolverines and would be enough for Olson to work with. He allowed two base runners in both the third and fourth innings, but the Sioux could not convert on those opportunities.
UND, who was the home team in this one despite playing in the Wolverine’s home ballpark, finally broke through for a run in the fifth on Kwak’s RBI single. Junior Riley Beck (Munich, N.D.) scored on the single through the right side after walking and stealing second.
UVU would respond with four more runs in the sixth to break the game open. The Wolverines loaded the base with a hit batsmen, a walk and a single off left-hander Kevin Auth (Cambridge, Minn.) to set the stage for another four-run inning. Centerfielder Billy Burgess delivered two of those runs with a big two-out single to center.
Alt tripled in a run in the sixth for his fourth RBI of the tournament, but he was left stranded at third as reliever Craig Brimhall came in and struck out both UND hitters he faced in the frame.
The Wolverines extended their lead to 10 in the seventh with a trio of runs. Two of those came compliments of a Rickenbach double. His two-base hit drove in a pair and his fourth hit of the game. UND plated two runs in the seventh on RBI singles from Trygstad and senior Kyle Bolander (Hermantown, Minn.) to keep the game going and avoid the 10-run rule.
Those would be the final two runs for UND, however, as Kallunki put his squad ahead by the final margin with a three-run homer in the ninth. It was Kallunki’s 18th home run of the season.
Ruemmele took the loss falling to 1-7 on the season. Senior Zac Salfer (Sleepy Eye, Minn.) worked the final four innings in relief for the Sioux.
– UND –