UST's Thomas toughs out nine-inning victory

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Backed by Dylan Thomas' complete-game pitching, the peaking St. Thomas baseball team upended defending national champion and No. 1-ranked Marietta 3-1 Sunday night in the NCAA Division III World Series.

The No. 4-ranked Tommies (40-8) will square off against Wheaton College of Massachusetts at 4:30 p.m. Monday in the winners' bracket of the eight-team, double-elimination tournament. UST, which improved to 6-0 in the NCAA playoffs, is already assured of a top-four national finish.

Thomas threw 149 pitches in his longest career outing at nine innings. He loaded the bases in the ninth with one out but struck out the last two batters to end the game. He stranded nine Marietta runners on the bases, all in the last five innings. Thomas (8-2), who struck out seven, recorded his eighth straight victory and lowered his season ERA to 2.25. In his last 11 appearances, he's 8-0 with a 0.98 ERA.

The Tommies, who slapped 10 hits, took a 2-0 lead in the third inning. Jon Kinsel had an infield single to deep short and moved to second on Justin Novak's sacrifice bunt. Tim Kuzniar knocked in Kinsel with a single and Charles Bruchu followed with an RBI triple into the right-field corner.

Marietta came into the tournament boasting a .331 team batting average, with its top six batters hitting .356 or higher, but Thomas faced the minimum 12 batters in the first four innings and struck out four. The only Pioneer to reach base, on a throwing error in the first, was wiped out on a double play.

The Pioneers nicked Thomas for a run in the fifth. He loaded the bases on a one-out single, walk and single, and gave up a two-out walk to force in a run. He went to a 3-2 count on Kirby Becker, a .356 hitter who had a tournament record-tying five hits Friday night, but Becker grounded to second to end the threat. Becker finished 0-for-5 on the night.

Thomas escaped a different kind of close call in the sixth. Tim Saunders, the Pioneers' leader hitter at .438, singled with one out. Successful on 41 of 46 stealing attempts, including 27 straight coming into the tournament, Saunders took off for second but was gunned down by J.D. Dorgan's perfect throw to Kinsel.

Marietta threatened again in the seventh. With one out and Mitch Geers at second, first baseman Dan Reichert and second baseman Novak collided on a high-hop grounder between the bags and the ball dropped near them. Geers tried to score from second but was thrown out by an alert Thomas.

Thomas aided his own cause in the seventh with an RBI single and a 3-1 lead on a hit that scored Jack Hogan, who reached on a leadoff double.

St. Thomas has allowed two or less runs in 25 of its 40 wins this season, and now has a 2.91 ERA.