The Gophers baseball team ended its season Monday with a crescendo, winning 3-2 at Siebert Field against Iowa.
Minnesota (15-12 in the Big Ten, 30-26 overall) won its last three games to finish the conference season in fifth place.
Iowa (13-13, 25-22) started the scoring Monday in the second inning when designated hitter Colin Mattiace hit a double that landed in the left-field corner. Brian Mitchell went to the plate a batter later and hit a two-run homer.
Then in the bottom of the frame, Minnesota got base hits from catcher Bryan Guse and Ben Griffin before Eric Welter doubled into the gap in left-center, allowing Guse and Griffin to score.
The Hawkeyes had runners in scoring position in each of the next two innings but failed to bring any of them around. The Gophers went back on the offensive and took the lead when Guse got another hit in the fourth inning and scored on freshman Robb Quinlan’s single to right field.
Iowa fell asleep at the plate for the next two innings until the seventh when Gophers right-hander Justin Pederson came in to finish off the game. Pederson struck out pinch hitter Rob Lehnherr for the junior pitcher’s 82nd strikeout of the season, but John Ostwald came up and punched a single into left field.
After Ostwald stole second base, it looked like Iowa might make the ending interesting, as Hawkeyes leadoff hitter Jeff Schley came to the plate.
Schley ripped a line drive that shortstop Steve Huls jumped up and snagged. Ostwald was caught about three-quarters of the way to third base. Huls ran toward second and underhanded the ball to Welter to wrap up the game and the season.
Guse said the win was a good way to end the year, but the team’s expectations will forever be unanswered.
“It makes it easier,” said the junior catcher. “But we’ve made the tournament every year since I’ve been here, and it’s a shock to realize it’s over right now.”
Still the players have a good taste in their mouths after winning 13 of their last 18 games, especially platoon right fielder Mike Mahady, who spent five years in the Gophers’ program.
“I’m very sad right now,” said Mahady, while standing in front of the Minnesota first-base dugout. “I’m going to miss these guys. I have a lot of memories of this place over the past five years, and I’m going to have a hard time with that.
“I would have liked to go out having a better season than I did, but we had a decent second half. It all ended on a positive note.”
Smith vs. Huls
Huls and Smith initiated a race for the team’s homerun championship last week. Going into the last series of the year, it looked like there would be no photo finish.
At the time, the count was Huls, eight, and Smith, five.
Huls then added his ninth of the year Saturday night. But Smith hit three dingers Saturday to close the four-homer lead by Huls to a single smash going into the last game of the year Monday.
Both players were intent on beating the other, but neither of them even managed to get a hit during Monday’s game. In fact, the top four hitters in Minnesota’s lineup went a combined 0-for-12.
Despite high emotions after the season finale, Smith smiled at the contest.
“I was trying too hard,” he said. “I swung at bad pitches. But it was a great weekend for me, and I’m happy I went out the way I did.”
GAME SUMMARYIowa 020 000 0 — 2 5 0
Minnesota 020 100 X — 3 6 0
DeWitt, Zrust (3), Pederson (7) and Guse; Holst and Sienko. W – Zrust (4-0). L – Holst (3-1). Sv – Pederson. HR – Iowa, Mitchell. 2B – Mattiace; Min, Welter. T-2:01. A-663.
Gophers batting statistics
AB R H RBI
Keeney 3 0 0 0
Huls 3 0 0 0
Smith 3 0 0 0
McDermott 3 0 0 0
Guse 3 2 2 0
Griffin 3 1 2 0
Quinlan 3 0 1 1
Welter 1 0 1 2
Mahady 2 0 0 0