Gophers salvage series split at Ohio State

by Tim Klobuchar

COLUMBUS, Ohio — At times during the first two games of this weekend’s series at Ohio State, the Gophers experienced moments of joy. The feeling at the end of both games, though, was exasperation, as they dropped two one-run decisions.
Minnesota endured plenty of both emotions in the third game, but escaped with a one-run win of its own. Finally, Sunday brought welcome relief in the form of a 13-3 blowout, as the Gophers gained a split in their important Big Ten series with the Buckeyes.
Minnesota, 20-17 overall and 8-5 in the Big Ten, maintained its third-place standing in the conference. Ohio State, 30-11 and 13-7, stayed in second.
The Gophers looked to be in serious danger of getting swept after their first two losses, but gained confidence with their 3-2 victory in the second game of a doubleheader Saturday. And on Sunday, Minnesota didn’t wait long in making sure there wouldn’t be a one-run game this time.
Leading 2-1 in the third, the Gophers exploded for five runs. Craig Selander had a pinch-hit two-run single, and Eric Welter followed two batters later with a two-run triple. Welter went 4-for-4 on the day with five RBIs, increasing his team-leading total to 36.
“It seemed to get us over the hump, and get momentum on our side,” Welter said of Saturday’s close victory. “What was big today was shutting them down in the first inning.”
Also key was that Minnesota had Mike Diebolt coming out of the bullpen, a much more formidable pitcher than anyone Ohio State had left in its pen. Fortunately for the Gophers, Diebolt pitched so poorly in his start on Friday (six runs and five walks) that he was lifted after two innings. That left him fresh for Sunday.
The senior left-hander ensured that the game would remain a laugher, throwing 6 1/3 innings of superb relief after taking over for starter Brad Pautz in the second inning. He gave up just four hits and two runs while striking out eight.
The game was in direct contrast to Saturday’s squeaker. Much like they did the previous week at Penn State, the Gophers rebounded after a tough one-run loss in the first game of a doubleheader to take game two.
Phil McDermott’s single to right brought home Eric Welter with the winning run in the top of the seventh, giving Minnesota a much-needed 3-2 victory, both for its record and its confidence. The Gophers had lost four games in a row, and their last four Big Ten losses were by one run. They lost 7-6 in the first game, one day after dropping an agonizing 11-10 game in which the Gophers lost leads in both the ninth and 10th innings.
“If we lose that game, frankly, we’re done,” Gophers pitching coach Mike Dee said after Saturday’s win. “We have no chance to win the league.”
The bullpen held Ohio State (see related story), and the Gophers’ offense finally broke through in the seventh. Welter and Ben Griffin started the inning with singles, and McDermott followed with a soft line drive that landed inside the right field foul line, scoring Welter.
“I’m just impressed with the way the kids competed,” Anderson said. “Especially after yesterday. They had every opportunity to throw in the towel. This game really takes courage, and it takes perseverance.”
Anderson also expressed his displeasure with the way his team executed, more so about the first game, in which the Buckeyes scored three runs in the sixth to turn a 5-4 deficit into a 7-5 lead. After a misplayed bunt loaded the bases with nobody out, Chris Bailey singled in two runs for the game-winning hit.
Minnesota scored once in the seventh, but McDermott grounded out to end the game. Justin Pederson took the loss, his second in as many days.
Pederson was also on the mound for the bitter conclusion of Friday’s amazing game. Mike Kremlas’ single to right-center brought home the winning run in the bottom of the 10th in the Buckeyes’ 11-10 victory. It was the fifth win in Big Ten play in which Ohio State won in its final at-bat.
The Gophers came back from an early 6-0 deficit off Buckeyes ace Justin Fry to take the lead in the ninth, and then again in the 10th. The game was filled with so many unbelievable turns, each new one pushed the last act of drama or heroism further back into the mind.
McDermott’s three-run homer in the sixth inning brought the Gophers to within 6-5, but that was forgotten in the top of the ninth. Down 7-5, Gophers catcher Bryan Guse delivered the home run that should’ve been the biggest hit of his life, a three-run shot over the right field wall to give Minnesota an 8-7 lead. Two batters later, Selander blasted a solo homer to make in 9-7.
But once they were down to their final out in the bottom half of the ninth, the Buckeyes made everyone forget Minnesota’s rally. With runners on first and second, Driscoll hit an apparently harmless fly ball to right. Selander got under it, but as the ball neared him, his knees buckled, his head jerked to the side, and the ball fell in for a two-run triple, tying the score at nine. Selander, like left fielder Robb Quinlan in the first inning, had lost the ball in the sun.
“When stuff like that happens, I guess it’s not meant to be,” Anderson said.
Matt Scanlon’s run-scoring single in the top of the 10th to give the Gophers a 10-9 lead temporarily made Ohio State’s comeback irrelevant.
But finally, in the bottom of the 10th, the Buckeyes provided the final two runs of a game that was memorable as a whole, even if some people might have forgotten about some of the key parts. With two outs and runners on first and second, Alex Eckelman hit a grounder that first baseman Ryan Beers misjudged. Beers dived, but the ball bounced off his body into short right field, scoring the tying run. Kremlas followed with his shot to the gap well beyond the dive of center fielder Troy Stein.
The Gophers had rallied from six runs down against the best pitcher on one of the best teams in the conference. They got clutch performances from their bullpen and hitters, and had two excellent chances to win. And in the end, all it amounted to was another one-run loss. It was like being 20 feet from winning a marathon, raising your hands in triumph and tripping on your shoelace.
“That’s the worst loss I’ve ever had playing this game,” Guse said.
In two days, the Gophers were able to progress from Guse’s sentiments to Welter’s statement, a remarkable achievement considering where they were after Friday’s galling loss.
“It’s nice to get out of here with a split,” said Welter, “especially after the first two games.”

Gophers 025 303 000 — 13 18 0
OSU 010 100 100 — 3 8 3
Pautz, Diebolt (2), Freeman (9) and Guse; Volk, Kochosky (3), Turner (4), Lee (9) and Kremblas. W — Diebolt, 5-3. L — Volk, 1-2. HRs — Gophers, Groebner (6); OSU, Zabloudil (4). T — 3:04. A — 1,954.

Gophers hitting stats (4 games)
Stein 14 4 5 2
Guse 16 4 6 6
Quinlan 18 2 6 5
Selander 15 3 3 3
Welter 15 6 9 6
Griffin 15 2 6 2
McDermott 16 2 5 4
Arlt 1 1 0 0
Scanlon 15 5 7 1
Devore 7 0 0 0
Birk 2 0 0 0
Beers 2 0 1 0
Groebner 8 3 3 2
Totals 144 32 51 31