Jackrabbits squeeze out win in bottom of the 10th

South Dakota State bunted home the winning run for the 5-4 victory.

by Trevor Born

In Big Ten baseball, having relievers you can count on is all-important.

With a four-game series packed into three days nearly every weekend, plus midweek games, pitching becomes much more about having several reliable arms rather than a few superstars.

Reliever Chauncy Handran took a big step in earning the trust of the Minnesota coaching staff Wednesday, pitching an impressive six innings of relief, giving up no runs, one hit, no walks and striking out six as the Gophers lost to South Dakota State 5-4.

“Chauncey pitched incredible tonight,” said shortstop Derek McCallum, who finished 2-for-2 with two walks and two RBIs. “We really leaned on him and he came through for us. No doubt he was the highlight for us tonight.”

Handran was brought in with the score tied in the fifth, something that probably wouldn’t happen against a Big Ten team. But midweek games give coach John Anderson a chance to take some risks, and Handran got the call after starter Scott Fern got into trouble.

“I haven’t had a lot of experience out there this year, so I look forward to these types of games to show the coaches what I can do,” Handran said.

The junior is in his first year at the Division I level, transferring from Miles Community College after leading them to the Junior College World Series last year. In eight appearances this season, he had an unimpressive 8.36 ERA and opponents were hitting .333 off him.

But Wednesday night he looked like one of Minnesota’s best pitchers, mixing pitches and overpowering Jackrabbits hitters with his hard sinker.

“He pitched like we thought he would when we recruited him,” Anderson said. “It was extremely encouraging.”

The Gophers fell behind early, as Fern gave up a three-run homerun to Nick Adams in the second, and never led in the game.

Down 3-1 in the fourth with the bases loaded and no outs, it looked like Minnesota had a big inning going, but their rally was killed when Mike Kvasnicka hit a hard line-drive up the middle that was caught by the second baseman, who tagged second base to double-up catcher Jeff DeSmidt.

An RBI-double from Nate Hanson brought the Gophers within one in the sixth inning, and Matt Nohelty’s fielder’s choice tied the game in the seventh.

Handran brought the Gophers to the 10th inning, where true freshman Dustin Klabunde was brought in. The first batter of the inning for the Jackrabbits, Tyson Fisher, hit an easy fly ball to right field, but first-year junior Eric Decker lost the ball in the lights, allowing Fisher to reach second and eventually score on a squeeze play to end the game.

“There’s been bad luck going on,” Anderson said. “Baseball’s a cruel game and it can be really crazy sometimes. We’ve had our fair share out of bad luck that past few weeks.”