An all-too-unfamiliar end

A near-miss in the Big Ten Tournament concluded a trying season for Minnesota.

Matt Perkins

St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame outfielder Lou Brock once said, “Nobody wants to hear about the labor pains, they just want to see the baby.”

This is the first year since 1999 that Minnesota’s baseball team ends its season with an empty carriage.

Unable to defend their back-to-back-to-back regular season titles, the Gophers fell in the championship game of the Big Ten Tournament on Sunday, ending their season with nothing but the scars to reflect on.

This is the first year in the last six that the Gophers walk away with neither a conference regular season nor tournament crown.

But they’re not giving up their reign just yet.

“We’re a team that’s going to compete year-in and year-out,” coach John Anderson said.

Throughout the season, the “well-hit average” was always where the coaching staff expected. But the dying quails weren’t dying, and the seeing-eye singles were blind.

The Gophers tried to make up for it on the base paths. They finished second in the Big Ten with 87 stolen bases, including 29 from third baseman David Hrncirik.

Hrncirik was the only Gophers player named first-team All-Big Ten. Senior starting pitcher Matt Loberg and junior shortstop Matt Fornasiere were named to the second team, while sophomore reliever John Gaub and junior first baseman Andy Hunter were named to the third team.

Hrncirik and Loberg are just two of the seven Gophers closing out their eligibility, including catcher Jake Elder. Outside the seniors, the Gophers could possibly lose more, including Fornasiere, to the Major League Baseball draft next week.

The Gophers lost one of their seniors early, when starting pitcher Josh Krogman went down a month into the season with soreness in his shoulder. The injury, which was a backlash from the Tommy John surgery Krogman had in 2002, ended his Gophers career when he had surgery early last month. He was named a volunteer assistant player coach for the remainder of the season.

“You have to control the controllable,” Anderson said. “Josh couldn’t control what happened to him. But it’s unfortunate because it forced us into playing some of the guys with a little less experience.”

Adding insult to the injury, the Gophers were unable to continue their impressive 12-4 start in Big Ten play.

Ending the regular season 5-11 in the Big Ten, the Gophers entered the Big Ten Tournament as the sixth seed. They made the best of the situation, advancing to the championship elimination game against Ohio State.

Trailing the Buckeyes 3-2 in the bottom of the ninth, the end to the Gophers’ season seemed close. But with two outs, pinch-hitter and redshirt freshman Joe Maciej hit a two-run walk-off home run extending their season for at least one more game.

The victory was short-lived, however, as Ohio State made quick work of the Gophers in a 14-6 win in the title game Sunday.

But Anderson said he feels Maciej is merely one shining example of the young talent Minnesota hopes to nurse to success in the near future.

“We have a good, strong, young talent base in our program,” Anderson said. “We put together another strong recruiting class, so I don’t see our playing level going down any time soon.”