Gophers win Big Ten regular-season title

The Gophers finished out the season 15-9 in the Big Ten, capped off by Saturday’s 4-3 victory over Ohio State, clinching sole possession of the Big Ten title and the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament.

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Mark Vancleave

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John Hageman

Two months ago, few people thought the Minnesota baseball team would end the season at the top of the Big Ten. At that time, the Gophers were 9-17 and just lost their first Big Ten game of the year in heartbreaking-fashion, letting a 2-0 lead slip away against Purdue to fall 3-2 in ten innings. âÄúI think at that point I commented to the kids, âÄòYou are guys are better than this,âÄôâÄù Minnesota head coach John Anderson said. âÄúI think from that point on, we started to play better.âÄù The Gophers finished out the season at 27-28 and 15-9 in the Big Ten, capped off by SaturdayâÄôs 4-3 victory over Ohio State, clinching sole possession of the Big Ten title and the No. 1 seed in the Big Ten tournament. They will have one of two first-round byes in this weekendâÄôs tournament, and will face the lowest seed from the winners of the first two games on Thursday. The winner of the tournament receives an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, which is MinnesotaâÄôs only realistic chance at making it. Coming into the final weekend of the season, the Gophers were first in the Big Ten, but eight teams still had a chance at the title. The Gophers started the weekend by crushing Ohio State 16-2 Thursday, piling on 21 hits along with four home runs while junior Seth Rosin took a no-hitter into the fifth inning en route to his seventh victory of the season. With the win, the Gophers remained one game ahead of second-place Michigan and two games ahead of Purdue. After one inning of play Friday, the game was postponed until Saturday due to lightning. Freshman TJ Oakes started FridayâÄôs game but was replaced the following day by sophomore Austin Lubinsky. Lubinsky went 4.1 innings and gave up two runs, but the GophersâÄô sometimes- inconsistent offense had not showed up. The Gophers found themselves behind 3-0 going into the top of the sixth inning, when sophomore Matt Puhl hit an RBI single to score Mike Kvasnicka and make it 3-1. Minnesota added two two-out hits from Kvasnicka and senior Kyle Knudson in the seventh to tie the game at three apiece. Capping off the four unanswered runs was a game-winning RBI single over the pitcherâÄôs head from sophomore Trip Schultz in the top of the eighth. âÄúIt felt great,âÄù Schultz said. âÄúWe never lost our confidenceâĦwe got to them in later in the game and we happened to come back.âÄù Junior Scott Matyas earned his sixth save of the year in 1.1 innings of work. With a Michigan loss to Penn State on Friday, the Gophers had claimed a share of the Big Ten title, and SaturdayâÄôs win gave them the title outright. âÄúWe didnâÄôt want to be co-champions, we wanted to be solo-champions,âÄù Schultz said. âÄúWe knew it was in our hands.âÄù The Buckeyes would go on to win the season finale later in the day, 8-6, but the loss in the first game of the doubleheader knocked them from tournament contention. It was the fifth Big Ten regular season championship for the Gophers since 2000, but their first since 2004. Last season the Gophers were in a similar situation, needing a win to clinch the Big Ten on the final day of the season, but fell to Penn State 10-8 and settled for the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament. âÄúIt hasnâÄôt even sunk in yet,âÄù Kvasnicka said. âÄúWith what went on last year and how it didnâÄôt go our wayâĦit makes it a little sweeter I think.âÄù With only two seniors on the roster, the Gophers had to learn as they went along, and Anderson said the younger players made the difference in their turnaround. âÄúI thought our upperclassmen did a tremendous job of bringing along the younger players and being patient with them,âÄù Anderson said. âÄúWe talked all year about trying to make a run at the end. It sounds easy, but itâÄôs really not.âÄù The Gophers will go into the Big Ten tournament as the hottest team in the conference, finishing the year on an 8-2 run. Anderson said that playing well at the right time of year and the pitching staffâÄôs consistency will be their key to making a run. âÄúI think we have the deepest staff in the league, and I think thatâÄôs always going to be a premium when you get into tournament time,âÄù Anderson said. âÄúIf we can continue to pitch like we have been and use our depth in our pitching staff, anythingâÄôs possible.âÄù