Baseball loses Big Ten Tournament Championship game to Michigan

Like the 2003 tourney, the Gophers were eliminated by a team from the losers bracket.

Robert Mews

The tournament-tested Gophers baseball team again found itself in the Big Ten Tournament Championship game last weekend.

However, a home-powered Michigan club (42-19, 23-9 Big Ten) won two out of three against Minnesota (34-26, 17-14 Big Ten) – including a 9-4 decision in Sunday’s do-or-die tournament clincher.

With Sunday’s win, Michigan will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, set to begin Friday. Minnesota will not make the NCAA Tournament.

“They’ve got a solid club,” junior Mike Mee said of Michigan.

The Gophers proved they had a solid club as well, before and during the tournament. Entering the tournament, the team was riding its longest winning steak of the season with seven wins.

Minnesota took that momentum into Ray Fisher Field and dismantled Illinois 8-1 in the first game of the tournament.

“We just started clicking on all cylinders,” Mee said. “Everybody was getting timely hitting and our pitching was outstanding just like it was all year.”

Starter Cole DeVries and reliever Andy Peters were able to hold the Illini to only one hit for the game.

The Gophers advanced in the winners bracket to face Michigan, which was at home because of its regular-season Big Ten Championship.

Minnesota was able to send the Wolverines to the losers bracket with a 6-2 win.

The Gophers’ pitching once again was solid as starter Brian Bull went 7 2/3 innings while giving up eight hits and two earned runs.

“I think our pitching really, really stepped up,” Mee said, “and our hitting came along.”

Andy Hunter, who returned to the lineup as a designated hitter against Illinois, continued his late-season surge as he went 2-for-5 with two RBIs.

Because of the win, the Gophers extended their seasonlong winning streak which would be tested by Ohio State – which knocked Minnesota out of last season’s championship game, 14-6.

But strong pitching and solid hitting by Andy Hunter (2-for-5, one RBI), and freshman catcher Chris Herbert (3-for-4, three RBIs) helped lift Minnesota into its sixth-consecutive tournament championship game by defeating the Buckeyes 7-3.

“I don’t think we were surprised in how we played,” coach John Anderson said. “We felt like we were finally healthy.”

Despite the momentum carried from a 10-game winning streak, the Gophers pitching staff was thinned out for a rematch with Michigan in the tournament championship.

With a win, Minnesota would secure its eighth Big Ten Tournament Championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

But an 11-9 loss sent the championship game to a do-or-die scenario Sunday, which the Gophers lost 9-4.

“It shows you you’re as good as your next day’s starting pitching,” Anderson said. “When you can have your best starting pitching out there, we had as good a team as anybody in the league.”

C.J. Spang contributed to this report.