Gophers clinch conference title

by Kent Erdahl

Minnesota’s baseball team won two of three games against Ohio State at Siebert Field over the weekend to clinch the Big Ten title and earn home field advantage for the Big Ten Tournament this week.

After a convincing 13-1 victory on Friday night, the Gophers secured home field advantage for the tournament for the third- straight year with a 7-2 win in the second game of a doubleheader Saturday.

The clinching game was especially sweet for Jay Gagner and Sam Steidl, the only two seniors playing in the game.

Steidl scored Minnesota’s first run of the game and finished by going 4-for-4 with three runs and two stolen bases.

With Steidl igniting the Minnesota offense, Gagner took the mound and commanded Minnesota’s defense, going all seven innings and striking out two, while allowing only four hits and two runs.

Despite struggling last season and only earning a starting spot midway through this season, Gagner said he looked forward to proving his worth to his team.

“I was hoping mine would be the decisive game,” said Gagner, who improved to 4-0 on the season and 3-0 in Big Ten play. “I was excited and focused before the game.”

Throughout the game, Gagner maintained his focus and relied on his defense support to make plays.

He made it especially easy on his teammates from the end of the second through the sixth innings, when he recorded 13 consecutive outs.

Although Gagner had less experience than others on the staff, coach John Anderson said he was glad the senior had an opportunity to pitch in such an important game.

“It was fitting for Jay (Gagner) to get this game,” Anderson said. “We had left him home the first series of the Big Ten season.”

Although Gagner clinched the title, sophomore starting pitcher Glen Perkins’ dominating performance Friday gave him the chance.

Perkins went the entire nine innings, allowed seven hits and one run and recorded nine strikeouts. The win improved Perkins to a sparkling 16-0 against Big Ten opponents.

He was supported with an impressive offensive display by the entire team. Each of Minnesota’s nine batters reached base and scored against the Buckeyes.

Sophomore Luke MacLean paced the offense with four hits, three runs and two RBIs. Four other Gophers also finished with multiple hits.

“I didn’t have any doubt,” said sophomore Andy Hunter, who collected two RBIs on two hits. “With Glen (Perkins) pitching on Friday, we just needed one more.”

After winning Saturday evening, Minnesota can look forward to hosting its third Big Ten Tournament in a row – something that hasn’t been accomplished by a Gophers baseball team since 1968-1970.

Games begin Wednesday at Siebert Field, and continue through Saturday or possibly Sunday.

Despite the home field advantage, Minnesota said it will not be taking the games lightly. The Gophers lost in the championship to Ohio State last year.

“It’s good to be home,” Hunter said. “Last year we didn’t get it done. This year, we’ve got to take care of business.”