(Photo via Kris Fasnacht, CSPBears.com)
After a collective 47 2/3 innings of shutout ball, the Concordia-St. Paul Golden Bears finally ceded a run in the first inning of Sunday’s tilt with conference foe St. Cloud State.
Concordia junior right-handed pitcher Gus Varland gave up the streak busting run with just one out in the first as St. Cloud right fielder Mitch Mallek plated shortstop Jordan Joseph. The run was just the second Varland had allowed all season, and the first scored against the Golden Bears in more than two weeks.
The shutout streak began in the sixth inning against Northern State, a game being played in Arizona on March 10. The Golden Bears then rattled off six consecutive victories where their opponent failed to score. They shut out Northern State in the second game of the March 10 doubleheader, then Dickinson State the next day in Arizona, followed by a four-game sweep of Minnesota Crookston to open Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference play.
Five different starting pitchers contributed to the streak, beginning with Keanu Mendez followed by the staff’s top four starters. The Golden Bears ace, Gus Varland, started the second and third wins during the scoreless run.
Mendez tossed five innings of shutout ball to get the trend going in a seven-inning win over Northern State. Varland matched Mendez the next day, striking out nine in five innings before handing the ball over to number-two starter Zach Lauzon in relief for another seven-inning win. After six days off, Varland again toed the rubber, this time going the distance against Minnesota Crookston in a seven-inning effort, allowing just one hit and fanning 10.
In the late game of the March 17 double header, Lauzon struck out 16 with just two walks through 8 1/3 innings before being relieved for the final two outs. Next came a no-hitter. Exactly one year after Varland’s no-hitter last season, junior right-handed pitcher Josh Garowski threw the second no-no in Concordia’s Division II era. Garowski walked just two and struck out 14 in the seven inning contest, a 1-0 victory.
To conclude the series sweep, Gus’s younger brother Louie Varland manned the hill and put on seven scoreless innings. The sophomore righty racked up eight strikeouts before being relieved for the game’s last two innings, pushing the team’s streak to six straight games and over 47 innings without allowing a run.
The Golden Bears excel on the mound and have four strong arms leading the staff. Though the season is still young for 11-5 (4-2 NSIC) Concordia, their top four starters each own an earned run average below three. In fact, only Lauzon’s ERA sits above one. Gus Varland and Garowski have marks of 0.67 and 0.75, respectively, while Louie Varland is yet to allow a run in 12 innings. The team ERA was 3.07 after Sunday’s action.
All juniors besides Louie, the foursome have been strikeout machines. Together they have amassed 100 strikeouts in 72 1/3 innings. Their control has been sharp also, and the group have issued 21 free passes collectively on the year. Gaworski has the highest strikeout rate of them all, averaging 14.3 K/9 through two starts. Lauzon, Gus and Louie Varland strikeout 36, 35 and 28 percent of batters faced, respectively.
During the streak, the team’s top four starters contributed 36 2/3 of the 47 1/3 scoreless innings, with the bullpen accounting for just 17 total outs and Mendez putting up five scoreless frames as well.
Now pitching in unison, the top of the team’s staff were in very different places a year ago, with only Gus Varland starting for the Golden Bears. His brother pitched in a relief role, while their former high school teammate Lauzon attended Indian Hills Community College before transferring to Concordia this year. Similarly, Josh Garowski pitched for Century en route to winning the NJCAA National Championship last season. The Varland brothers pitched for the Willmar Stingers of the Northwoods League last summer. Gus was named to the league’s midseason and postseason All-Star teams.
All four pitchers have a chance to play professionally. Roughly 20 scouts attended Concordia’s season opener, a complete game victory by Gus Varland against Minot State at US Bank Stadium. The 6-foot-1, 190-pound righty from Maplewood, MN can hit the mid-90s with his fastball and has a clean, athletic delivery with plus arm action. He also features a slider that he utilizes to generate whiffs against batters from both sides of the plate.
(Varland warming up vs. Minnesota Crookston, 3/17/18 – video via Dylan Anderson, CBBSN Scout, Author)
After allowing a run in the opening frame, Varland settled in on Sunday, cruising through eight innings with just the one run allowed. The Golden Bears would fall to St. Cloud State in the 13th inning of game one, before losing the later game 15-1. Lauzon had four of the earned runs. Garowski and Louie Varland will likely start the first two games of the four game series against Bemidji State which begins on Tuesday.