Gophers dismissed to loser’s bracket by Ohio State

Minnesota will now have a long road if it wants to win a second straight Big Ten championship.

Derek Wetmore

The Gophers baseball team will now enter the loserâÄôs bracket  of the Big Ten tournament after an eighth-inning meltdown  that featured two previously hot pitchers, five runs, two errors and a pivotal lead change.

No. 5 Minnesota was leading No. 4 Ohio State 1-0 when first baseman Nick OâÄôShea broke through with a two RBI double in the top of the eighth. Both starting pitchers had been cruising to that point and the way GophersâÄô starter TJ Oakes  was dealing, it seemed three runs would be enough.

Oakes had breezed through seven innings to that point, allowing just three hits and walk with no runs allowed. Then the BuckeyeâÄôs bats came to life.

Ohio State catcher Greg Solomon opened the bottom half of the eighth with a bunt single. With one out, the leadoff hitter singled to elicit a pitching change. Scott Matyas  came in to attempt to lock down a five-out save and propel Minnesota to the next round of the tournament.

Matyas, who was named to the All-Big Ten First Team along with teammate  AJ Pettersen , gave up an RBI single, which cut the GophersâÄô lead in half. The next batter lined a 3-1 pitch back up the middle and it grazed off MatyasâÄô foot. Second baseman Matt Puhl  was unable to choral ball following the deflection and after apparently losing sight of the ball behind the second base umpire.

As the grounder ricocheted toward Puhl it appeared to be a potential inning-ending double play ball. He was unable to play it though and it skipped off his wrist. It was scored an error, on which the tieing run scored.

Matyas then struck out a man before giving up a pair of two-out hits, including an RBI double that capped the scoring and allowed the Buckeyes to bat around in the frame.

After entering the bottom half of the eighth cruising and looking to close out a first round victory, Minnesota walked off the field stunned and could not mount a ninth-inning rally.

âÄúIt was tough,âÄù OâÄôShea said. âÄúWe had a well-pitched game to that point. TJ did a great job on the mound and usually when we bring a lead late in to a game, we win. Today we realized that isnâÄôt always a guarantee.âÄù

The Gophers will now play Penn State in the loserâÄôs bracket Thursday morning at 11 with senior Phil Isaksson  on the hill. He started in the only victory against Penn State this season,  and his team lost the other two matchups in their weekend series. 

Had Minnesota won its first game and ran the table, it would have only taken four wins to cap off a Big Ten championship. Having lost, it will now have to rattle off five straight wins to do so.

âÄúEveryone knows we have a long road ahead of us but I think weâÄôre all determined to keep battling,âÄù OâÄôShea said. âÄúEvery game our back is up against the wall from this point out. Every team we face now will have that same situation. We just have to look at it as an opportunity to knock a bunch of teams off on the way to the championship game.âÄù

Head coach John Anderson  said he thinks his team can overcome the adversity of facing elimination every game from this point forward. 

 âÄúTheyâÄôve shown toughness all year. They havenâÄôt quit on us all year based on whatâÄôs gone on,âÄù Anderson said referring to the collapse of the Metrodome roof and the extremely uncooperative spring weather.

âÄúThey would have quit a long time ago if they didnâÄôt have some toughness. WeâÄôve got to win tomorrow. WeâÄôve got to get through that game and go to the next one.âÄù

The conference tournament has implications on the NCAA tournament as well. The Big Ten has historically been a one-bid league, meaning usually only one team will make the regional tournaments âÄì the winner of the conference tournament. Last year that was the Gophers, but theyâÄôll have an uphill battle this year if they want to return.