Gophers done in by six-run Panthers fifth

Matt Perkins

Minnesota’s baseball team scored a run in the eighth inning and two more in the ninth, but came up short in their comeback effort against Northern Iowa on Wednesday, losing 9-6 in the team’s only game this season at Siebert Field.

The Gophers got things going with runs in each of the first two innings and held Northern Iowa scoreless through four.

But that’s when the Panthers’ bats came alive.

The Panthers put up six runs in the fifth inning and added two more in the sixth to jump out to an 8-2 lead.

“They did a better job executing their pitches out on the mound today,” coach John Anderson said. “We can’t give up six runs in an inning, two more in the next and expect to come back.”

But the Gophers almost did come from behind.

Minnesota trailed Northern Iowa 9-4 heading into the ninth, when the Panthers brought in their star closer Bryan Westphal.

Coming into the game, Westphal had pitched 18.2 innings for Northern Iowa and only had given up two runs for an earned run average of 0.96.

With one out and nobody on, junior Dan Lyons, a transfer from Iowa Central Community College, lined a base hit up the middle that seared past a ducking Westphal.

The hit was followed up by a pinch-hit double down the left field line from Kyle Baran, with Lyons holding at third.

Not for long.

Senior first baseman Andy Hunter drove both runners in with a single to right field, cutting the Panthers lead to 9-6.

“We got our bats going against Iowa last week, and we kept things going here today,” Hunter said. “We did a good job of staying in this one down the stretch.”

With Hunter on first, sophomore Nick Biagini came through with a pinch-hit single down the left field line, bringing the tying run to the plate in the form of left fielder Mike Mee.

But Mee, who had two home runs coming into the game, grounded into a game-ending 4-6-3 double play.

“Our guys stayed at it and made things close,” Anderson said. “But in the end it was that one big inning that got us.

“You’re not going to give up the big inning all the time, but today our pitchers weren’t executing the way theirs were. That made all the difference in this one.”

Marcus McKenzie got the start for Minnesota and pitched three scoreless innings, giving up just one hit and a walk.

Reid Mahon relieved McKenzie and pitched a perfect fourth before handing the ball over to freshman Tyler Oakes in the fifth.

And Northern Iowa got to Oakes early.

The Panthers posted six runs on five hits in the inning, with Oakes recording just one out in allowing five earned on four hits and two walks. The Gophers also committed two errors in the inning, five in the game.

But the Gophers’ lackluster performance on the mound was hidden at times with great plays in the outfield, including a homerun-saving catch by Sean Kommerstad in right field.

And after the game, Kommerstad said the defensive highlights were great, but the team’s lively bats were even better.

“If you can take a positive out of this game, it’s definitely our bats,” Kommerstad said. “We made some plays, but our bats got going, and we were almost able to come back.”