The Gophers baseball team took two of three from last-place Iowa over the weekend but failed once again to take a step above .500 when given the chance.
Minnesota (16-17 overall, 8-7 Big Ten) rode its pitching and defense to the series win. The Gophers continue to struggle at the plate.
Winners of five of its last six Big Ten games, the Gophers mustered just one hit Friday but did enough to beat the Hawkeyes, 1-0.
Iowa starter Jarred Hippen went the distance in a gem but wound up with the loss. He faced one batter more than the minimum and was a lone base hit short of a perfect game.
The one hit was a Troy Larson triple in the fourth. Larson came around to score on a Justin Gominsky sacrifice fly and that was all the Gophers needed to hold off the Hawkeyes.
Starter TJ Oakes pitched seven innings, allowed seven hits and struck out seven while walking three. Oakes escaped a bases loaded jam in the first before settling down with the help of catcher Kurt Schlangen.
“They had a lot of opportunities to score some runs. The first inning was key,” head coach John Anderson said. “TJ was able to get himself out of the first-inning jam with the bases loaded and Kurt Schlangen did a nice job back there calling the game.”
Schlangen threw out two would-be base stealers, picked off a runner from first and blocked the plate nicely to cut down a run in the sixth inning.
Minnesota’s bullpen came up big Friday and Saturday. Billy Soule came on in relief of Oakes Friday and got two big outs in the eighth inning before giving way to closer Scott Matyas.
Matyas got four outs, including three strikeouts, for his seventh save of the season.
Saturday’s 5-4 extra-inning win provided even more drama. After a two-hour rain delay, the Gophers jumped out to an early lead with two first-inning runs and another in the third.
The Hawkeyes came charging all the way back in the eighth inning with three runs scored on just one hit and four Minnesota errors.
Iowa led off the tenth inning with a Mike McQuillan double and he came around to score. Matt Puhl came up big in the bottom half, driving in a run on his third hit of the game to tie the score.
He came up even bigger in the bottom of the twelfth. AJ Pettersen led off with a single and Larson bunted him to second. Gominsky was intentionally walked to face Nick O’Shea, who struck out.
Puhl walked to the plate with two down and the winning run on second base. He drove a walk-off RBI single to right center to extend the Gophers’ Big Ten winning streak to five games.
“I knew at some point he was going to go to his curveball and that’s what he did but he left it a little bit up. I just tried to stay on plane and drive it the other way and it fell [in].”
Most of the players had been at the ballpark for more than nine hours at the time of Puhl’s walk-off. After the two-hour rain delay, the 12-inning affair lasted three hours and 47 minutes.
“It was a fantastic win for us,” Pettersen said. “The games that are tight at the end are the toughest to win so I thought that was big for us.”
Matyas got seven outs Saturday including five strikeouts. Tom Windle got the win after he pitched two scoreless innings and allowed just one hit.
But the conference win streak was snapped at five by a 7-1 thumping Sunday. After two poor offensive showings resulted in wins, Anderson said Sunday’s loss was appropriate.
“When you break it down we were fortunate to win the first two,” Anderson said. “Honestly, I don’t think we had a very good weekend offensively. That’s been our Achilles’ heel all year.”
The Gophers had the bases loaded with one out and their cleanup hitter at the plate in the sixth inning. At that point they only trailed 2-0, but O’Shea grounded to the third baseman, who forced a runner at the plate. Then Puhl flew out to the warning track in left field to end the threat.
“We’ve struggled to put together quality at-bats in RBI situations and I thought that haunted us again today,” Anderson said.
He added: “I think [O’Shea] was trying to do a little too much and I don’t think he executed a very good plan in that situation … you’ve got to have some better at-bats in the middle of the lineup.”
O’Shea said it wasn’t his plan that failed him, but rather the execution.
“I was just looking for a fastball to drive and I got one but it probably wasn’t the one I should have hit. That’s tough but it happens some time and you just hope to get it the next time,” he said. “We’re happy to take five out of our last six in the Big Ten and we’re right in the thick of things for the conference championship.”
Minnesota is tied for fourth place in the conference with three Big Ten series left to play.