Minnesota wins series over Nebraska thanks to walk-off wild pitch

The Gophers won two games in walk-off fashion over the weekend.

Outfielder Easton Bertrand swings at bat at Siebert Field on Friday, March 29. 

Jack Rodgers

Outfielder Easton Bertrand swings at bat at Siebert Field on Friday, March 29. 

Jack Warrick

The game was nearly headed to extra innings for the second time in the series, but one wild pitch changed that.

The game was tied and the bases were loaded. Minnesota first baseman Cole McDevitt swung at a wild pitch for his third strike in the bottom of the ninth inning. However, the ball got away from the Nebraska catcher, and Minnesota’s pinch runner Riley Smith scored the winning run in walk-off fashion when he beat the throw home and jumped into his teammates who met him on the field.

“Last year, we played St. John’s; we had a walk-off balk, so that was weird. And I think this one was a little bit weirder,” said Gophers’ pitcher Joshua Culliver, who started the cold and partially snowy series finale. “Personally, [it’s] about time something good goes our way after our season, the way it’s been going.”

The walk-off wild pitch gave Minnesota (11-14 overall, 5-1 Big Ten) a 3-2 victory and the series win over Nebraska (13-9 overall, 4-2 Big Ten). Minnesota won the first game on a walk-off home run from Eli Wilson on Friday, and then had a double header on Sunday after cold weather postponed Saturday’s game. On Sunday afternoon, the Gophers lost the first game 10-1 before pitching improved and they took a 3-2 victory in the final game.

“I just told them after the first game we didn’t pitch good,” said Gophers head coach John Anderson. “I said what really matters right now is how we’re going to respond.”

Culliver started on the mound in the finale and let up two runs in the top of the first inning, though neither were earned. He got over that and finished the game with six strikeouts, allowing zero earned runs in five innings pitched. Culliver, a sophomore from Omaha, Nebraska, said he knew a lot of the players on that team from growing up and playing baseball in the area.

“It was a lot of playing back in high school a lot of times with some of those guys coming up,” Culliver said. “I took a lot of pride going out there today obviously, just playing Nebaska.”

Gophers’ shortstop, Jordan Kozicky, tied the game 2-2 in the bottom of the first inning with a two-run single. Kozicky led the Gophers at the plate on Sunday as he recorded all of the Gophers’ RBIs (3).

“[Friday] I went 0-4, still felt fine so I knew that it wasn’t a manner of mechanics or anything. Just got to put the ball in play and good things happen,” Kozicky said.

After seven and a half scoreless innings, Nebraska pitcher Shay Schanaman walked Eli Wilson, let a passed ball get Minnesota outfielder Easton Bertrand to first base and then walked Kozicky to fill the bases. Smith, who pinch ran for Wilson, got home after Schanaman threw a wild pitch.

First Big Ten Loss

In the first Big Ten loss of the season, the Gophers’ second day starting pitcher Patrick Fredrickson struggled again, pitching 3 2/3 innings and allowing five runs before being pulled. Minnesota didn’t recover and gave up 10 hits and 10 runs in total to lose 10-1. 

“I think we got to stick with them,” said Anderson about the three weekend starters of Max Meyer, Fredrickson and Culliver. “Even though the result wasn’t there, I still think it was better.”

The Gophers’ only run came in the bottom of the fifth inning when Kozicky hit a solo home run out of the park to cut the Cornhuskers’ lead to 6-1.

Fredrickson gave up three runs in the first inning, including a two-run home run by Nebraska’s designated hitter Luke Roskam. Then, in the fourth inning, Nebraska scored two runs on a single to left field, and senior Jake Stevenson replaced Fredrickson on the mound. 

The Gophers pitched sophomores Ryan Duffy and Nolan Burchill in the final three innings. Burchill gave up a two-run home run to Cornhuskers’ outfielder Mojo Hagge to give Nebraska a 10-1 victory. Duffy didn’t allow any runs and recorded four strikeouts in two innings pitched.

The Gophers will play Division III opponent St. Scholastica on Tuesday at Siebert Field.