By Megan Toninato – [email protected]
In the spring of 2017, the brand-new U.S. Bank Stadium will host over 140 baseball games. Lucky for the SJU baseball team, they get to be a part of the fun.
On Feb. 26, the defending MIAC Playoff Champion Johnnies took on UW-LaCrosse in downtown Minneapolis.
Junior pitcher Nick Noack started the season with a bang throwing a no-hitter against the No. 3 ranked team in DIII. Noack ended the night with seven strikeouts, zero hits allowed and zero walks while only throwing 71 pitches in seven innings.
With Noack shutting the door on the Falcons’ offense, the Johnnies came up with one run for the win.
“To throw a no-hitter was not even a possibility in the beginning because of how good LaCrosse was and I had never thrown one before,” Noack said. “Being able to throw that no-hitter with my guys was one of the happier moments I have had.”
The night had an added twist: the start time for the doubleheader was 9:45 p.m. The Johnnies were tested both physically and mentally, playing their games well into the middle of the night.
Senior third baseman Derek Schiebel said the venue and the fact that it was the team’s first game was reason enough to stay awake.
“If we would have had a normal game at this time everyone would have been tired and not as attentive and focused as we were,” Schiebel said. “Once we got there the time didn’t even matter because we were just excited to play again.”
Senior pitcher/infielder Alex Kendall agreed.
“The experience playing at U.S. Bank was awesome,” Kendall said. “The place is enormous and state-of-the-art. Just keeping yourself from thinking about the time was the biggest challenge I think. Coach Haugen got us a bunch of snacks so that we had some energy in the early hours of the morning. But, it is just a mindset on keeping yourself involved in the game that was the best way to overcome being tired.”
Kendall was also excited to see Noack’s no-hitter.
“Throwing a no-hitter is unbelievably difficult, but throwing it against the No. 3 ranked team in the nation is crazy,” Kendall said. “Nick has nasty stuff and was a huge part of our success last year, and will be a huge part of the program in the future.”
The Johnnies followed up their split with LaCrosse with two wins against Valley City State on March 3 also at U.S. Bank Stadium. They won the first game 9-3 and finished the second in dramatic fashion as sophomore outfielder Max Jackson hit a walk-off ground rule double into the left field corner to take the game 2-1 in an extra frame.
Kendall and Schiebel are both returning after being named to the AllMIAC and All-Region teams last year. Schiebel went one for three against the Falcons this weekend, and he is looking forward to what this year may bring.
“We’ve had some good runs the past couple of years, and each year has kind of built off of each other,” Schiebel said. “Two years ago our goal was to make it to regionals, and last year we wanted to win some games at the regional, which we did. This year, our goal is to get to the World Series in Appleton, WI at the end of the season.”
The Johnnie baseball team won the MIAC Playoff in both 2015 and 2016. The 2017 Baseball Preview and Coaches’ Poll had the Johnnies finishing second in conference play. But, as any sports fan knows, preseason polls can often be wrong.
“Winning comes with expectations,” Kendall said. “We have a target on our back this year, so every game teams will be playing their best against us… We have great chemistry this year and I think that will be key in trying to repeat as MIAC champions.”