May 13: The Igniter

Explosive Matt Olson is anxious for the playoffs ? and he?s ready to run

Matt Olson has had a busy May, and he hopes it gets busier.

Last weekend, the senior rightfielder was 4 for 9 at the plate with a homerun, four RBI and three runs scored as St. Thomas clinched its eighth consecutive MIAC title with a doubleheader sweep of archrival St. Olaf.

On Wednesday, in between classes and practice, the mechanical engineering major participated in the senior engineering design show. He and four other students, working for Cardiovascular Systems of St. Paul, presented their design for a sheath for inserting a device used to treat Peripheral Arterial Disease.

And on Friday, it will be back to the baseball diamond as St. Thomas opens the MIAC playoffs at 3:30 p.m. against Augsburg in Dundas. The double-elimination tournament winner will advance to the NCAA regional tournament next week; the Tommies likely will receive a bid even if they lose this weekend because of their regular-season title, 29-6 record and No. 5 national ranking.

Olson is excited for postseason play. The stakes are higher and the pressure is greater, but he is used to it. He has been on three teams that played in the regional tournament and last year received the Most Outstanding Player award in the national tournament, scoring the winning run in the 12-inning title game against Wooster.

For now, however, Olson isn’t thinking about NCAA playoff games. He is concentrating only on the MIAC playoffs.

“This is a great time of year,” he said. “Everything is on the line. This is when it all matters. Our focus is on getting things done this weekend. If we do well, that can set us up for a higher seed in the regionals. It’s as simple as that.”

The Tommies head into the weekend with a five-game winning streak, but they know they have played inconsistently on offense. They drubbed St. Olaf 19-4 in the first game last Saturday, banging out 19 hits, and then managed only four hits in squeaking out a second-game win, 2-1. The previous Thursday, they had only three hits in a 1-0, 2-1 sweep of Hamline.

“Our pitching has been fantastic all season,” Olson said. “We have the lowest ERA (2.17) in the nation, and that has saved us. The hitting will come around. We always seem to get the other team’s best pitcher throwing his best game against us.”

Olson has been a model of consistency throughout his Tommie career. He has hit .363 in 143 games over his four years, including a career-high .398 this year. His slugging and on-base percentages of .519 and .470, respectively, are comparable to last year. And in the field, he has had only one error (as a sophomore) in 204 chances – a .995 career fielding percentage.

He has stolen 16 of 19 bases this year, an 84 percent clip that matches his 41-of-49 mark over four years. He likes to steal bases and will do anything to get on base, often beating out bunts or patiently waiting out a pitcher for a walk (13 this year). He has been hit by four pitches this year.

“When I’m at first, talking to Vandy (coach Matt Vanderbosch), he’s telling me whether the pitcher might be going to home or whether he’ll throw an off-speed pitch,” Olson said. “If I’m on second and he isn’t paying attention to me, I’ll run. The coaches tell me that you want to create the mindset that you’re going to run every time even if you don’t.”

Coach Chris Olean appreciates Olson’s mentality and says he has a “green light” to run whenever he thinks the conditions are right.

“He gets the bunt single down nine of 10 times, and then speed takes over,” Olean said. “We know that Matt can drive the ball, but he’s just as valuable when he’s on the bases. He likes to be the igniter.”

Two recent examples illustrate Olson’s value as a runner. He had the game’s only run in the May 5 win over Hamline, scoring after a bunt single, an error, a stolen base and a groundout. On May 2 against St. Scholastica, he had a two-out bunt single, came around to third over an overthrow of first base and scored on a single.

Yet as much as Olean appreciates Olson’s speed, he loves to see a flash of power. With three runs already plated in the second inning of the St. Olaf opener, Olson stepped to the plate and crushed a pitch over the left-center fence for a three-run homer and a 6-0 Tommie lead.

“Matt has a flair for the big moments,” Olean said. “As somebody said after the St. Scholastica game, ‘It’s May. It’s time for Olson to get hot.’ ”

Olson certainly was hot last May. In 20 games, he batted .427 (29 for 68), scored 23 runs and had 14 RBI. He went 11 for 22 with 11 runs – including that championship clincher – in the national tournament.

Olson just hopes the Tommies can stay hot for three more weekends. When it’s over, he’ll have little time to rest. He’ll be back at St. Thomas pursuing a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. He plans to be a full-time student and, if schedules go right, he will complete his studies by this time next year.

That’s Matt Olson for you. Busy all the time.

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