Michigan beats U for Big Ten title

Sarah Mitchell

After opening the Big Ten tournament with a 12-9 loss to Illinois on Thursday, the Minnesota baseball team’s road to defending its 1998 title looked more like a dead end.
In the four-team, double-elimination playoff, the Gophers (44-16) needed four straight wins to repeat as Big Ten champs.
Minnesota’s effort to retain the crown fell one game short. After upending the conference regular season champion and host school Ohio State 10-1 Friday and avenging its loss to the Illini 9-3 on Saturday, the second-seeded Gophers ran into fourth-seeded Michigan (32-28).
“I’ve said all season long that Michigan is a good team. They have a lot of ability and they applied it this weekend,” Gophers coach John Anderson said. “I’m very proud of our guys. They have nothing to be ashamed of.”
Coming out of the loser’s bracket, the Gophers needed to defeat unbeaten Michigan twice. Minnesota took the first game 13-10 Sunday. But the Wolverines, paced by right fielder Jason Alcaraz (5-for-6), righted themselves in game two, winning 12-11.
Michigan earned its first Big Ten tournament title in 12 years and an automatic berth in the upcoming NCAA regionals.
Tied at 11 in the bottom of the ninth, the Gophers pitching staff –worn thin by the loss of starter Dan McGrath to arm problems — surrendered the game-winning run to the Wolverines. Alcaraz’s RBI-single handed Gophers reliever Frank Wagner (4-5) his second loss of the tournament.
“I think we pitched well enough to win,” Anderson said. “We had guys throwing who aren’t at the ability level of Brad Pautz or Dan McGrath, yet.”
Out of his typical reliever role, pitcher Jason Shupe started for Minnesota in the championship showdown. The right-hander never settled down on the mound during his three innings, putting his team at an early disadvantage. Shupe allowed three runs in the bottom of the first.
The Wolverines tacked on another run in the bottom of the second before the Gophers responded in the top of the third inning. Senior Robb Quinlan cut the deficit in half with a two-run homer. The shot was Quinlan’s 53rd of his career and broke the Big Ten record which belonged to Ohio State’s Dan Seimetz.
Michigan recovered the two runs in their half of the third inning. First baseman Bryan Besco’s two-run dinger off Shupe gave the Wolverines a four-run lead.
Minnesota closed the gap with a four-run fourth inning. Sophomore Rick Brosseau’s two-run double and freshman Jason Kennedy’s two-run blast — his fourth of the weekend, which tied for the tournament lead — fueled the rally.
Not wanting to lose any more ground, Shupe was relieved by designated hitter Aron Amundson. But Amundson’s 1 1/3-inning appearance cost the Gophers five runs.
Minnesota recaptured three runs in the top of the sixth. Down 11-6, junior Matt Scanlon’s two-out, three-run home run brought the Gophers back to within two.
The Gophers picked up a pair of runs in their eighth inning at-bat. Scanlon’s single off Wolverines reliever J.J. Putz allowed Brosseau and Kennedy to score and tie the game at 11.
But the deadlock was broken in the bottom of the ninth. Looking to stretch the contest into extra innings, Wagner surrendered a no-out, bases-loaded single to Alcaraz.
“We played good enough to win,” Anderson said. “Being behind and having a chance to win speaks for our team.”
With their second-place finish, the Gophers were forced to wait until today to find out who will be included in the 64-team NCAA tournament this weekend. Seedings will be announced at 2 p.m. on ESPN.
“There’s no scenario in my mind, but anything is possible,” Anderson said. “It would come out of nowhere.”