Patrick Reusse
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NORTHFIELD – The short drives south to chronicle the adventures of the St. Olaf College baseball team have been infrequent through the decades, it must be admitted, although there was one of those in late April 2007.

The main topic then was Andrew Schmiesing, an outstanding two-sport Ole in football and baseball, and likely to be selected in a few weeks in the MLB draft.

That did take place, with the Twins taking the 6-foot-4, 200-pound and swift Schmiesing in the 11th round as an outfielder. He was in the low minors for the Twins in 2007 and 2008, then with the independent St. Paul Saints in 2009 and briefly in 2010.

If you're an athlete and graduate from an MIAC school, there's obviously going to be a fallback position beyond a sports career, and Schmiesing had a good one:

He's now an orthopedic surgeon for TCO.

Matt McDonald was St. Olaf's baseball coach then, and he's now in his 30th year and has himself another very good club. St. Olaf won the MIAC regular season with a 17-3 record and the right to have a 25% chance to represent the conference in the 56-team national tournament.

"We've done it the same way for a long time: Only four of the 11 teams make the conference tournament, and then it's double elimination," McDonald said. "The league has never been more well-balanced. There were some good teams that didn't make playoff. Gustavus. And Concordia … beating that team twice in the first conference doubleheader was the key to our MIAC season."

The MIAC now plays its four-team tournament at the Saints' CHS Field. On Thursday, St. Olaf gets St. Mary's at 2 p.m., with St. John's and Bethel at 7 p.m., and the double elimination drama takes place Friday and Saturday.

MIAC baseball tournament bracket

"We've played the tournament all over through the years, but now we've settled into CHS Field," McDonald said. "You play a season hoping the weather's going to be good enough to play on the days of your 10 doubleheaders, and to get into a great ballpark like that, hopefully for three days, it's tremendous."

St. Mary's is the fourth seed, which brings no comfort to McDonald. "They'll pitch that lefty [Addison Hochevar] that beat us during the season," he said.

McDonald's No. 1 starter, Sam Lavin, is also in the lineup when he's not pitching — usually as the DH. He carries a 6-2 record pitching righthanded, and a .390 average batting lefthanded.

How does a ballplayer from Algonquin, Ill., wind up at St. Olaf? Turns out, there are summer showcases for the combination ballplayer/high-academic achievers looking for the right college.

"I went to the showcase on Long Island," Lavin said. "There were coaches from all levels, but mostly D-III.''

The gatherings are called the Headfirst Honor Roll Showcases. Looked it up and saw that one of the partners sued the other in 2017 for what he said was stealing money, and he received a large settlement.

Still, as small, expensive private colleges battle as never before to maintain enrollment, academic recruiting has become national, and bringing in athletes (no scholarships in D-III) has become increasingly important.

"St. Olaf has raised its academic profile considerably over the last so many years," McDonald said. "We used to be primarily Minnesota, Wisconsin, students from the region. That's not the case anymore."

McDonald's team has players from Maryland, Virginia, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Missouri, California, Washington state, Idaho and Hawaii.

And Algonquin, Ill. — senior Sam and sophomore brother Frank.

"I talked with several D-III schools at the Showcase, but the first visit was to St. Olaf, and said, 'This is the place,'" Lavin said.

Division III, yes, but you never know who you're going to run into in the MIAC.

Two springs ago, Lavin was facing Kiefer Lord, a righthander pitching for Carleton, the Oles' Northfield rival. Lord was throwing at a velocity that attracted Division I attention. He transferred to the Washington Huskies and became a third-round selection by Baltimore in the 2023 MLB draft.

There's no graduate school at St. Olaf, and Lavin is about to get his degree in biology.

"I have a year of baseball eligibility left, so I went into the graduate part of the transfer portal … looking for a D-I program," Lavin said. "I think it's down to St. Thomas or George Mason.

"I never had a chance to play against the Tommies as they were leaving the MIAC. Maybe I'll wind up being one of them."