Late comebacks sting Gophers as Anteaters sweep

Senior Tony Skjefte fields a ground ball on Saturday evening at Siebert Field.

James Healy

Senior Tony Skjefte fields a ground ball on Saturday evening at Siebert Field.

Ben Gotz

An overwhelming sense of deja vu crept over Siebert Field on Saturday night.
 
The Gophers watched as the University of California-Irvine celebrated a second comeback victory. For the second consecutive game, they were left wondering how they allowed the Anteaters to steal a late victory. 
 
Blown leads contributed to a UC-Irvine sweep of Minnesota over the weekend, closing out a 13-game home stand in a disappointing fashion.
 
“To become a winning ball club, you’ve got to find ways to finish games,” head coach John Anderson said. “When you don’t make plays and pitches at the end of the game, that’s how you get beat.”
 
A promising start for the Gophers disappeared Friday night in the eighth inning as a two-run lead vanished.
 
Senior pitcher Ben Meyer was strong on the mound for the fourth consecutive Friday start, holding the Anteaters scoreless through seven innings by getting UC-Irvine to ground into three double plays.
 
“Those were some huge plays,” Meyer said. “[The] defense played great behind me all day.”
 
The Gophers took a 2-0 lead in the first inning off of a double by redshirt sophomore Matt Stemper, but they were blanked the rest of the game.
 
Then in the eighth inning, a sacrifice fly and a two-out single allowed the Anteaters to tie the game. One inning later, another two-out hit put UC-Irvine ahead, and the Gophers were unable to respond.
 
On Saturday, UC-Irvine jumped out to a 2-0 lead, but by the fifth inning, Minnesota was holding on to another two-run lead.
 
Once again, it evaporated. 
 
The Anteaters scored three runs in the top of the ninth inning to take a 5-4 lead over Minnesota, which managed to score a run of its own in the bottom of the ninth to force extra innings.
 
This time, the two-out hit that did the Gophers in was an RBI double in the top of the 12th inning.
 
“We just didn’t hit enough, and we didn’t make the plays at the end like we know we can,” second baseman Connor Schaefbauer said.
 
While the Gophers were up early in the weekend, they never had a lead to blow on Sunday
 
The Anteaters scored three runs — two unearned — in the top of the first inning and didn’t see their lead threatened all game.
 
A single and a sacrifice fly scored the first two runs, and then UC-Irvine ran a double steal that managed to get a third runner home.
 
“[Starting pitcher Tim Shannon] made some really great pitches. They just got the bat on the ball,” sophomore Austin Athmann said. “He really didn’t make many mistakes. They put some good swings on good pitches is really what happened.”
 
The Anteaters added to their lead with a two-run double in the fourth inning and a sacrifice fly in the fifth, giving them enough cushion to stay comfortably ahead when Stemper hit a two-run home run in the sixth.
 
The Gophers were unable to score again despite mustering 11 hits during the afternoon, allowing UC-Irvine to finish off the sweep.
 
“It kind of stinks; it’s not fun,” Athmann said. “But all in all, we played good. We played three good games this weekend.”