STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — The Gophers baseball team’s win over Penn State in the final game on Sunday, and the way they won it, might go a long way towards healing the memories of its first two defeats in the series.
In danger of losing their fourth straight Big Ten game, the Gophers rebounded for a 7-4 win over the Lions to improve to 17-13 on the season, 6-3 in the conference. Depending on the result of Sunday’s two Ohio State-Illinois games, Minnesota will either be in second or third place. Penn State is 17-16, 4-6.
The Gophers and Lions played three of their four scheduled games this weekend. They played two games Sunday after their Saturday doubleheader was rained out.
Minnesota’s win helped erase thoughts of two one-run losses to the Lions, including one on Sunday that threatened to carry over to the next game. Also, the players who figured into the win gained a measure of either redemption or revenge for their previous performances.
Robb Quinlan, who made the last out in the first two games, both times with the tying run on base, drove in the go-ahead runs in the fifth inning of the last game. Justin Pederson, normally a starter, came on in relief because of the cancelled fourth game. He took over for starter Adam Williams and had his best outing in weeks. He pitched the last four-and-one-third innings, and retired 11 of the last 12 hitters.
And Minnesota got back at the Penn State bullpen, which shut down the Gophers in the Lions’ 5-4 win on Friday. Minnesota scored three runs off relievers Joe Martin and Chris Mattice in the decisive fifth inning. On Friday, those two combined for three and two-thirds innings of shutout ball.
The win, which allowed the Gophers to make the long trip home still holding some confidence and satisfaction, was even more notable considering the tough first-game loss. The Gophers suffered their second straight one-run defeat, 4-3, as Penn State scored an unearned run in the bottom of the sixth.
The run came courtesy of shaky Gophers defense and a questionable call at home plate. With two outs and Adam Beers on second, Kevin Fagan hit a grounder that second baseman Eric Welter couldn’t handle, the second Minnesota error of the inning. Fagan reached first, and Beers never hesitated rounding third. Welter’s throw to the plate looked to be in time, but home plate umpire Tim Catton thought Beers slid under catcher Bryan Guse’s tag, bringing Gophers coach John Anderson out of the dugout to argue.
Asked in the dugout after the game whether he thought Beers was out, a dejected Guse just nodded.
Minnesota still had a chance to tie the game in the seventh when Matt Scanlon hit a lead-off double to left-center. Mark Devore bunted him to third, and Troy Stein walked. Guse followed with a one-hopper to third. Scanlon was running on contact to keep the Gophers out of the double play, drawing a throw to the plate. He was eventually tagged out in a rundown. Bump then got Quinlan to ground into a fielder’s choice to end the game.
“I don’t think you can blame everything on the errors,” Scanlon said. “The sticks weren’t going all game. We could’ve won it before that.”
Gophers sophomore Craig Selander hit a triple to the right field fence to put Minnesota up 3-0. It was the only Gophers scoring of the game, and one of only four Minnesota hits.
“We hit a lot of hard balls right at guys,” Selander said. “Things just didn’t go our way. They got a lot of clutch hits with two outs or two strikes.”
That last sentence probably sounded familiar to the Gophers, who watched Penn State score all its runs with two outs in Friday’s 5-4 loss.
Pitcher Mike Diebolt, who had won his last four starts and had a 2.25 ERA in the Big Ten coming into the game, escaped a few jams unscathed. The one he didn’t was the most unlikely.
With Minnesota leading 4-2 in the sixth, Diebolt allowed one run, but with two outs and a runner on first and the No. 9 hitter coming up, the senior left-hander looked like he would get out of the inning with his team still in front. Especially since the hitter was Joel Torcolini, a junior hitting just .259 with no career home runs. All of which made the Diebolt fastball he launched into the pine trees far behind the left field fence even harder to believe. The improbable blast gave the Lions a 5-4 lead and turned out to be the final margin of victory.
“The loss was frustrating because we seemed in control, and we lost it so quick,” second baseman Eric Welter said. “We had momentum on our side, and we felt we let that one slip away.”
SUNDAY’S SUMMARIES GAME 2Gophers 001 240 0 — 7 11 0 PSU 002 200 0 — 4 7 2Williams, Pederson (3) and Guse; Romig, Dalsey (4), Martin (5), Mattice (5), Kunkle (5) and Sadlowski. W — Pederson, 3-3. L — Martin, 2-5. T — 2:31. A — 176.
GAME 1Gophers 300 000 0 — 3 4 2PSU 111 001 X — 4 9 1Felling, Zrust (3) and Guse; Bump and Sadlowski. W — Bump, 6-3. L — Zrust, 3-1. HRs — PSU, Campo (5), Boruta (4). T — 1:48. A — 176.
Gophers hitting statistics (3 games) AB R H RBIStein 12 1 5 3
Guse 11 1 3 0
Quinlan 12 2 4 4
Griffin 8 3 2 0
Welter 9 3 2 0
McDermott 10 0 1 1
Selander 8 2 4 4
Groebner 2 0 0 0
Keeney 4 0 0 0
Devore 7 2 1 0
Scanlon 7 0 2 2
Totals 90 14 24 14