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Gophers baseball stayin’ alive in Big Ten tournament

Tom Windle comes up huge for the Gophers in both games of double-header Friday, combining for eight scoreless innings, eight hits, six strikeouts and no walks.
Gophers baseball stayin alive in Big Ten tournament
Image by Anthony Kwan, Daily File Photo

The Gophers baseball team continued its improbable run through the Big Ten tournament Friday with two win-or-go-home victories. Minnesota eliminated Ohio State with a 9-4 win in the early game before defeating Purdue 1-0 in the second game of the day.

The GophersâÄô offense exploded once more for six runs in the sixth inning against Ohio State after laying dormant for much of the year. Two-run home runs from Kyle Geason and Matt Puhl and a two-run single from Nick OâÄôShea highlighted the scoring.

Austin Lubinsky started the game and went six innings, keeping his team in the game just long enough for the offense to break out. Tom Windle earned the save after pitching the final three innings. He struck out four and allowed just one base runner.

Windle then turned around and started the second game after about a 30-minute layoff. He went five strong innings, struck out six and didnâÄôt walk a batter. His performance was as big a reason as any that the Gophers were able to win the back-to-back ballgames.

He did give up seven hits in the afternoon game, but the Boilermakers stranded 12 runners on the afternoon âÄì at least one in every inning.

The bullpen trio of Cullen Sexton, Billy Soule and Scott Matyas was able to close the door on Purdue, keeping the combined shutout intact. Purdue entered the tournament as one of the top offensive teams in the conference, but its bats went silent in the final game of its season.

Troy Larson scored the only run of the second game. Followed a base hit and a sacrifice bunt by the suddenly red-hot Puhl, Kurt Schlangen singled to advance Larson to third and AJ Pettersen drove him in with an RBI single.

Justin GominskyâÄôs defense in right field also helped Minnesota preserve the 1-0 win. He gunned out a Boilermaker runner at home plate in the eighth inning right after the Gophers had taken the lead. Matyas came on to start the eighth and earned a six-out save.

Minnesota will now face the loser of Friday nightâÄôs matchup between No. 1 Illinois and No. 2 Michigan State. The game is scheduled for Saturday at 2:30 P.M.

The Gophers will need to win three more games, including a double-header Saturday if they want to repeat as Big Ten tournament champions. The challenge, according to head coach John Anderson, will be to amass enough pitching to get through the remaining games.

Minnesota primarily used three starters all year because so many midweek games were cancelled, hindering the teamâÄôs ability to develop a fourth trusted starter. Its three most trusted arms out of the bullpen âÄì Windle, Soule and Matyas âÄì have all been used in this tournament.

TJ Oakes, who started WednesdayâÄôs loss to Ohio State, expressed interest in pitching on short rest Saturday âÄì if his team could get that far.

The teamâÄôs other starters âÄì Lubinsky and Phil Isaksson âÄì will likely not be available the remainder of the tournament. Lubinsky pitched close to 100 pitches Friday and Isaksson, who pitched Thursday, usually requires a full seven days to recover because of various physical ailments including sore hips.

Anderson has said he doesnâÄôt think there is much of a talent disparity between any of the Big Ten teams, with the noted possible exception being the Spartans, a team he feels is the best the conference has to offer.

Only the winner of the Big Ten tournament will be given an automatic bid to NCAA regional action. Likely none of the teams have a strong enough résumé to be considered for an at-large bid.

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