Gophers lose in 12th frame at Northern Iowa

by Tim Klobuchar

Playing its ninth game in 10 days, including seven on the road, the last thing the Gophers baseball team probably wanted in Wednesday’s game at Northern Iowa was extra innings.
But that’s what happened, as the Gophers and Panthers played 12 innings, the longest game of the year for Minnesota. A win might have made the Gophers forget the extra work, but they didn’t get that either, as Northern Iowa scored in the bottom of the 12th to grab a 9-8 victory.
The Panthers’ Mike Waller drove in Brian Kegler from second base with a two-out single for the winning run.
Minnesota fell to 20-18 on the season, while Northern Iowa improved to 25-14. The Gophers beat the Panthers 6-5 on March 25 in the Metrodome.
Freshman Ben Birk, pitching in his eighth inning of relief, walked Kegler with one out. Another freshman, Dan McGrath, relieved Birk and hit his first batter. He struck out Josh Dunham for the second out, then gave up Waller’s game-winning hit to right.
Because the game was nonconference and in the middle of the school week, fewer players than usual made the trip for Minnesota. The Gophers used just three pitchers, and couldn’t have afforded to use too many more. Conversely, Northern Iowa used seven pitchers and 16 position players.
Fortunately for Minnesota, Birk had a breakthrough outing. The left-hander out of Cretin-Durham Hall High School pitched eight innings in relief of starter Kai Freeman and allowed only four hits, four walks and three earned runs. He also struck out seven.
Had it not been for senior Troy Stein’s excellent performance this season, Birk would have likely been Minnesota’s starting center fielder. He was recruited as a two-way player, though, so the Gophers knew he still could contribute in a different way this year.
Birk entered the game with Minnesota trailing 6-2, and kept the Panthers relatively quiet while the Gophers rallied. Minnesota scored three times in the fifth, once in the sixth and twice in the eighth to tie the game at eight. Stein singled in Matt Scanlon for the tying run.
Stein also led off the game with a home run, his fifth of the year. He had three hits and three RBIs to lead the Gophers’ offense. Robb Quinlan, Phil McDermott, Bryan Guse and Scanlon all had two hits for Minnesota.
The Gophers host Division II Southwest State tonight at 6 p.m. at Siebert Field.

Gophers 200 031 020 000 — 8 15 0
UNI 204 111 000 001 — 9 15 1
Freeman, Birk (4), McGrath (12) and Guse; Gill, Allison (5), Chalupsky (7), Chamberlain (8), Sabers (8), Kron (10), Hoey (10) and Ellwanger, Waller (7). W — Hoey, 2-1. L — Birk, 0-2. HRs — Gophers, Stein (5); UNI, Sawatzky (11), Kegler (3), Barnes (1). T — 3:45. A — 86.