Gophers’ march through Big Ten tournament halted by No. 2 Michigan State

Derek Wetmore

After an impressive run through the loser’s bracket of the Big Ten tournament, the Gophers baseball team lost to No. 2 Michigan State, 6-3, and was eliminated Saturday.

No. 5 Minnesota outperformed its seed by finishing third, an improbable feat considering the team lost its opening game to Ohio State. Dropping the first game meant the Gophers would need to win six consecutive elimination games in order to repeat as Big Ten champions.

Desperate for starting pitching, Minnesota turned to freshman lefty DJ Snelten Saturday. The team had been starting him in the midweek games throughout the season to prepare him for a possible tournament start, but with all the rain cancelations, he was never able to stretch out beyond four innings.

He pitched five-plus innings Saturday, surrendering six hits and four earned runs. He gave way to Bill Soule after giving up two walks and a single to load the bases with no outs.

The Gophers had taken a 3-1 after four innings after a Kyle Geason two-RBI single, but all three of Snelten’s runners eventually scored, erasing the lead. Michigan State tacked on one more in the sixth on Soule and one in the seventh to establish the final score.

“It’s tough to win all those games in a row and it’s just a testament to our pitching staff that we could come out and win all these games,” shortstop AJ Pettersen said. “I think they did really well in the tournament and it’s a bummer we couldn’t get the bats going today.”

It’s rare that a Big Ten team can lose the first game and then fight its way back to the championship game largely for that reason – pitching is scarce in the conference and six starts is a lot to come up with considering most teams only have three weekly starters.

“We would have never got to this point without the pitching staff that we had,” Anderson said. “Todd Oakes and the job he did with our pitching staff – they had a phenomenal year – it kept us in the tournament. He deserves a lot credit. In a year we didn’t have a lot of offense, you’ve got to give Todd a lot of credit.”

Michigan State will go on to play No. 1 Illinois Saturday night for the conference title and right to advance to regional action in the NCAA tournament. Since it’s a double-elimination tournament, the Spartans would have to beat Illinois twice to take the crown. If Michigan State wins Saturday night, the two teams will face off again Sunday for the title.