Pair of Minnesota walk-off wins highlight Dairy Queen Classic

The walk-off base hit is one of the most exciting plays in baseball. The walk-off hit by pitch âÄî not quite as exciting. Coming off a commanding 13-3 win over UC-Santa Barbara Friday night, Minnesota found itself knotted with Washington after nine innings in its second game of the Dairy Queen Classic on Saturday. The Gophers hadnâÄôt plated a runner since the fourth inning and the HuskiesâÄô bullpen seemed untouchable. But after a scoreless top of the tenth, a walk, an error and a hit batter loaded the bases for Minnesota with no outs. Junior second baseman Derek McCallum stepped to the plate. With a 2-1 count, WashingtonâÄôs Brian Pearl plunked him as well to force in the go-ahead run and the Gophers notched a 6-5 win. A hit batter is a fairly rare occurrence âÄî two in a row to end a game even rarer. The fans in the Metrodome and even the players didnâÄôt seem quite sure how to react. âÄúIt was definitely a little different [Saturday],âÄù sophomore right fielder Michael Kvasnicka said. âÄúNobody ever thought [McCallum would] be hit in the arm to win it. He said he tried to get out of the way because he wanted to swing for it.âÄù Regardless, it got the job done, and on Sunday, Minnesota executed a slightly more conventional walk-off. Down 4-2 to Hawaii and down to their last out, the Gophers pulled within one with an RBI single off the bat of junior center fielder Eric Decker that put the tying run, pinch runner Brooks Albrecht, 90 feet from home. After Decker stole second, senior left fielder Jon HummelâÄôs two-run single propelled the Gophers past the Rainbow Warriors 5-4 and Minnesota finished the Dairy Queen Classic with a 3-0 record and a tournament title. âÄúIt doesnâÄôt get any better than that,âÄù Kvasnicka, who was named the tournamentâÄôs most outstanding player, said of the walk-off single. Winning a pair of close games early in the season certainly has positive implications for the Gophers and may be an important step in putting the struggles of last season behind them. âÄúWe needed a game where we had to find a way to win at the end,âÄù head coach John Anderson said after SaturdayâÄôs victory. âÄúItâÄôs something this team needs to learn how to do and it was a great opportunity tonight.âÄù Little did he know Minnesota would get that opportunity again the next day. The Gophers sprung to life seemingly out of nowhere Sunday. When Hawaii brought in left-handed reliever Sam Spangler in the fifth inning, MinnesotaâÄôs offensive production dried up. Spangler allowed just one hit and no earned runs in four innings of work. But when Spangler was replaced in the ninth by right-hander Josh Slaats, the Gophers jumped on him immediately. Three clutch hits later, they won the game. âÄúEarly in the season itâÄôs nice to get that confidence that you can win those one-run games,âÄù senior designated hitter Matt Nohelty said. âÄúThatâÄôs the difference between a good season and a bad one is those tough games you can grind out like that.âÄù