Mark VanNatta stood in the on-deck circle, watching a teammate get gunned down at the plate as the Augustana Vikings tried to complete a weekend baseball sweep of the visiting Carthage Red Men.|
Nursing a one-run lead and being so close to a first three-game run over the Red Men, the moment capsulized the up-and-down day for the hosting Vikings. Augie had two runners gunned down at the plate trying to score on extra-base hits. They had another runner from third not score when he was caught in a rundown when he left on a contact play.
All the while, senior pitcher Ben Heaton was doing his best to keep the explosive Red Men in check.
"They had a big play when they threw our guy out at the plate that gave them a lot of momentum,'' said VanNatta. "I was just trying to be the guy to step up and have a good at-bat and get that last guy in to give us some insurance.''
That's exactly what the lefty-swinging senior did, lacing a two-out RBI single in the eighth that scored freshman Jacques Camalick from third to gave the Vikings a 4-2 lead and the victory by that score.
Senior lefty Scott Erickson pitched a perfect ninth inning for his third save.
Augie coach Greg Wallace believed was the first three-game sweep of Carthage since the league abandoned division play and two-game sets.
The victory moved the 23rd ranked Vikings to 17-4, 5-2 in the CCIW and dropped Carthage to an uncharacteristic 7-13, 2-6.
"When you're sitting .500 and go in and take three, obviously, it changes the outlook on things and things look better for you,'' said Wallace, whose club had split league games with North Central and Elmhurst.
The Vikings have plenty of players to praise for the weekend success. On Sunday, most of it began with Heaton. Augie's No. 3 starter went 7 2/3 innings, scattering eight hits and giving up single runs in the sixth and eighth innings. He fanned three and didn't walk a batter.
"This was important in that it sent a message to everyone else in the league that we're the real deal,'' said Heaton of the victory. "We want to keep coming out and play hard and win games.''
Despite his solid outing that moved him to 4-1, Heaton's ERA actually raised a bit, still an impressive 1.62.
"You never know what you're going to get in the third game; sometime you're going to have to hit your way through it,'' said Wallace. "Everybody wants that great start in the third game.''
A great offensive start was just what the Vikings got. Grant Stewart scored Kurt Schmidt with a two-out RBI double in the first after leadoff man Jacob Van Duyne got caught off third on Schmidt's grounder.
Van Duyne and Stewart, who had two doubles, each had three hits as Augie out-hit Carthage 11-9.
The biggest of those hits, though, was VanNatta's.
"You're almost upset that he got thrown out because that's a big-time play they made against us,'' said the Alleman product who ended up at Augie via Black Hawk. "At the same time, you know that you can bounce back right away. Just trying to be the guy, have confidence in yourself and give your team spirit if you come up big.''
Which is what the Vikings did this weekend with their historic sweep.
"There isn't a better feeling than to come out and sweep a conference series,'' said VanNatta. "It puts us in the right spot we want to be moving forward. We want to keep going on this winning streak and win it all.''