Gophers drop another slugfest to N. Iowa

The two teams have combined for 59 runs during three games this season.

by Trevor Born

When it comes to playing Northern Iowa, the Gophers have learned that anything can happen.

The two teams met for the third time this season Wednesday afternoon, and the Panthers won 9-8. The Gophers won 11-9 in March, and then needed just one more strike to win earlier this month, but lost 13-11.

The Gophers wasted 12 hits and a 5-0 fifth-inning lead, tied the game in the top of the ninth, but lost another close game. They have now lost their last four games that have been decided by two runs or less.

The Gophers led 7-4 with one out and a runner on first in the bottom of the seventh. Brandon Douglas hit a groundball at shortstop Nate Hanson that appeared to be an easy double play, but the ball took an odd hop and went over Hanson’s head.

Instead of being out of the inning, there were now runners on first and second with one out. As often happens in baseball, the next hitter homered to right field to tie the game.

“You just can’t control things like that,” outfielder Eric Decker said. “We’ve gotten a lot of those kinds of bounces this year.”

Trailing 8-7 in the ninth inning, Decker struck out to lead off the inning, but reached base on a passed ball. He then made an unorthodox baseball move, advancing to second base on a foul-out to the catcher.

With two outs, catcher Jeff DeSmidt was down to his last strike before singling to right field and tying the game.

But the Panthers (21-10, 8-1 Missouri Valley Conference) came back in the bottom of the ninth with a walk, a single and a sacrifice fly off freshman reliever Scott Matyas.

“We won a lot of one-run ball games last year, and we haven’t this year,” head coach John Anderson said. “We don’t have the same experience this year. We had 12 seniors last year and they knew how to win those types of games.”

Freshman Scott Fern pitched well in his second career start for the Gophers (15-18, 5-7 Big Ten), giving up one earned run and striking out four in his four innings of work.

Anderson likes to give several pitchers work in nonconference, midweek games to keep them fresh, so he took Fern out in the fifth.

The three Minnesota relievers – Dustin Kablunde, Luke Rasmussen and Matyas – combined to give up six runs in the final five innings of the game.

The true freshman Klabunde took the brunt of it, giving up four runs and six hits in 2.1 innings.

Going Long

The Gophers came into the game with just 13 homeruns in 32 games, the third lowest mark in the Big Ten.

But Decker, Nate Hanson and DeSmidt – the second, third and fourth hitters- all went long Wednesday.

In all, the teams combined to hit five homers out of Riverfront Stadium.