Tourney championship escapes Gophers

Brian Stensaas

All the signs of a long afternoon of baseball were evident.

The shadows of Siebert Field’s first-base side light towers stretched the length of the infield. The batters’ boxes and pitcher’s mound were in shambles.

The grandstand, once packed cheek to cheek with a roaring crowd of 1,619 now was a mess of flattened popcorn boxes, hot dog wrappers and soda bottles. Only the few die-hard fans remained.

And they stayed to watch their die-hard baseball team do anything but go down without a fight.

Down 17-6 heading into the bottom of the ninth inning in the Big Ten tournament championship game Sunday afternoon – the second game of the day – Minnesota rattled off five hits and plated four runs off Ohio State closer Matt Davis.

Sure, the Gophers (39-20) wound up losing the game and the championship to boot, but the never-say-die attitude shown in the last half of the ninth was encouraging to their coach.

“It was a long day,” said John Anderson, in his 22nd year as Minnesota baseball’s head coach. “I give our kids credit, they didn’t quit. We didn’t come out ill-prepared or anything. It’s a funny game, sometimes it just all goes against you.”

The Gophers entered Sunday with a perfect 2-0 record in the tournament, having defeated Penn State 4-3 in their first game and getting past Ohio State 5-4 to advance into the final day.

However, Minnesota’s luck ended there. After dropping Sunday’s first game 10-8 to the Buckeyes, Ohio State went off in proving it was the better team on the day.

Minnesota started the second game off with bang. After Jay Gagner faced only four batters in the top of the first inning, the Gophers sent eight batters to the plate in the bottom half of the inning. Center fielder Sam Steidl led off the inning with a double and later scored on an error.

Minnesota held a 2-0 lead heading into the top of the third inning, but that’s when Ohio State went to work.

The Buckeyes (41-19) put a five-spot on the board in the inning, tagging Gagner for four runs including back-to-back home runs by Christian Snavely and Steve Caravati.

Minnesota answered with two runs in the bottom of the third thanks to RBI singles by David Roach and Tony Leseman, but the Buckeyes were too strong.

They went on to score in every inning but the eighth and rout Minnesota 17-10 for their second-straight Big Ten tournament title. It has now been eight years since the host school has won the tournament.

“On a different day, maybe it’s our guys scoring all the time,” Minnesota third baseman David Hrncirik said. “We put together a pretty strong tournament, but things can turn on you so quick.”

The two teams banged the ball around all game long, setting a Big Ten record for combined hits (42) while the Gophers’ 24 hits in the second game were a tournament record.

Honors

Prior to the tournament, Minnesota raked in three of the four annual Big Ten awards.

Second baseman Luke Appert was named as the conference’s player of the year, pitcher Glen Perkins was the freshman of the year and Anderson was named as the coach of the year.

Brian Stensaas welcomes comments at [email protected]