Jack Wassel’s first inning homer boosts Gophers over the Sooners

The last time Minnesota played Oklahoma was in the College World Series in 1973.

<p>Infielder Jack Wassel watches his hit at Siebert Field on Friday, March 29. </p>

Jack Rodgers

Infielder Jack Wassel watches his hit at Siebert Field on Friday, March 29. 

Jack Warrick

Minnesota’s bats came alive early on Friday, and it made all the difference.

Gophers’ third baseman Jack Wassel hit a three-run shot to right-center field in the first inning to spell disaster for the Big 12 team visiting from Norman, Oklahoma. His second home run of the season took the air out of the Sooners as it gave the Gophers a 4-0 lead.

“We got some guys in scoring position so I just tried to put a barrel on the ball,” Wassel said. “I was ready for it, and I put a good swing on it.”

Minnesota (17-20 overall, 7-5 Big Ten) built off the first inning, and starting pitcher Sam Thoresen’s five innings of scoreless pitching led to an 8-1 victory over Oklahoma (25-14) at Siebert Field on Friday night. It was the first matchup with the Sooners since 1973.

Thoresen pitched five innings on the way to recording a win on the mound. He allowed two hits and no runs, while striking out six Sooners batters. He has moved his pitching style to starting out of the stretch, and it’s been working for him.

“He’s been able to find a release point out of the stretch. He’s been better, and his confidence is growing,” said head coach John Anderson. “It takes time to get these kids where they can eventually get to a point where they can slow the game down, pitch with confidence.”

Minnesota catcher Eli Wilson started off the scoring with a single through the left side that scored designated hitter Max Meyer from second base. Wilson finished 3-for-4 at the plate, with a double and two RBIs. He leads the Gophers’ starting players in batting average with a .308 after the Oklahoma game.

“I felt good, just trying to be aggressive and put some good swings on balls,” Wilson said. “We had traffic on the bases all night.”

After Wassel’s home run, the score stayed posted at 4-0 until the bottom of the fifth inning. Sooners third baseman Brylie Ware and shortstop Brandon Zaragoza each made a fielding error in the bottom of the inning, which let Meyer and shortstop Jordan Kozicky get home safely with no outs. It was uncharacteristic of the Sooners, as they were ranked 16th in Division I baseball with a .979 fielding percentage going into the game.

Wilson smashed a double that bounced to the left field wall to score outfielder Ben Mezzenga in between the two errors. After the fifth inning, the Gophers led 7-0. Minnesota second baseman Riley Smith finished scoring for Minnesota with a deep home run to left field for a 8-0 lead. The Sooners put one on the board in the top of the ninth before relief pitcher Jake Stevenson ended the game in the next at-bat.

Sooners’ starter Cade Cavalli pitched in the loss. Minnesota and Oklahoma had a 10-10-1 record against each other going into the game.

The last time the Gophers played the Sooners was in 1973 in the College World Series when Minnesota won 1-0 in the first round. Former Gophers’ pitcher and National Baseball Hall of Famer Dave Winfield struck out 14 batters. He was named the most outstanding player of the World Series that season. Winfield is the only athlete to be drafted by four different professional leagues, and his number (31) is one of six retired from the Gophers’ baseball program.

“Winfield, I think in a seven inning game, struck out about 15 guys against Ohio State, and I think he was 7-for-8 in the double header,” Anderson said about watching his first Gophers baseball game in 1973 before he started playing on the team. “Obviously I was a big fan of Gopher baseball when I was in high school. Anybody in Minnesota was a fan of Gopher baseball back then.”

The Gophers will play the Sooners again on Saturday at Target Field at 2 p.m.