More walk-off magic
Conner Oliver loves the big moment. He relishes the pressure of do-or-die situations.
Lately, the Minot State junior has made a habit of excelling when the lights shine brightest.
Tuesday was no different. He delivered a walk-off, seeing-eye single to right field in the bottom of the eighth inning to lift the Beavers to a 9-8 victory over No. 24 Augustana in the first game of a doubleheader at Corbett Field.
The clutch knock was the second game-winner in as many contests for Oliver, who walked off with a similar single to right in the 10th inning of a series finale Saturday against Winona State.
“I just enjoy the pressure honestly. It was just fun. I love it,” Oliver said.
The Beavers (11-21 overall, 5-13 Northern Sun) strung together consecutive victories for the fifth time all year, and improved to 3-6 in league games decided by three runs or less. They fell 13-3 in the nightcap, but MSU coach Brock Weppler said he’s content with the split against Augustana (32-11, 22-5), which entered the doubleheader atop the NSIC standings.
“I would’ve liked to get two wins, but you take it,” he said. “Obviously a team like that – the No. 1 team in the conference – you get a split with them, that’s a pretty good day.”
If not for Connor Moughtin’s bat, the Beavers might have suffered their sixth doubleheader sweep of the season. MSU was one out away – two strikes away, to be exact – from dropping the opener.
Moughtin, a senior catcher from Victoria, British Columbia, sent the game into extra innings by driving a 0-1 curveball to left-center for a two-run homer.
In Moughtin’s first at-bat against Augustana reliever Derek Quame, he saw five straight sliders. He was hunting an off-speed pitch the second time around.
“The bottom of the order for us has been a struggling a little bit, so I was looking to hit a ball hard,” said the 5-hitter, Moughtin, who went 2-for-3 with four RBIs and a walk. “He hung a curveball to me and luckily it got out of here.”
The Vikings, which led 6-1 after the top of the third inning, reclaimed the lead on Jack Goihl’s homer that snuck just inside the right-field foul pole.
MSU didn’t blink an eye. Brad Rolff led off the bottom of the eighth with a infield single, then advanced to second on an errant pickoff attempt. Tyler Stevenson followed with a single to left and Sean Arbaut added another single, which scored Rolff. Stevenson sped to third on a wild pitch and Nick Hammerl reached base on an error. Augustana coach Tim Huber pulled reliever Lincoln Voss, who suffered the loss. Troy Pilkington took the mound, setting the stage for Oliver.
He pounded a 1-0 fastball to right field, scoring Stevenson – just as he did against Winona State.
“Coach told me he gets behind on a lot of people and if he gets behind you, expect a fastball,” Oliver said. “That’s exactly what happened. Fastball inner half and I just turned on it.”
Oliver went 3-for-5 with three RBIs, while Rolff, Stevenson and Arbaut each recorded two hits. Austin Berntson improved to 2-4, pitching the eighth inning for the win.
The Beavers didn’t lead until Oliver’s final at-bat. MSU’s never-say-die attitude was a far cry from other recent performances, said Weppler, who called it a “night and day difference.”
“We had a couple different chances to feel bad,” he said. “We could’ve hung our head, but we didn’t. We stuck with it and ended up getting a win.”
In the nightcap, Augustana outhit MSU 15-8, with seven hits and seven runs coming against Beavers starter Jesse Goertzen (2-4) in the first 1 1/3 innings. The Vikings led 11-1 after three innings.
“I think we were a little more focused (in) Game 2,” Huber said. “Not to say we didn’t come to play, but our guys were maybe a little less focused (in) Game 1 than they were Game 2. That kind of stuff happens, especially coming off Easter weekend.”
Augustana starter Cole Jenkins (4-1) allowed five hits and three earned runs over four innings for the win. Tony Viger led the Vikings with a 4-for-5 outing that included two doubles, a mammoth homer, six RBIs and four runs scored.
The Beavers travel to the University of Mary for doubleheaders on Friday and Saturday.
Ryan Holmgren covers Minot State athletics and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter @ryanholmgren.