Winners of five of its last six Big Ten games, the Gophers baseball team dropped a 5-2 decision to North Dakota State on Tuesday after closer Scott Matyas gave up a bases-clearing double in the eighth inning.
Head coach John Anderson said the problem wasn’t the bullpen implosion, but rather that the offense once again provided only the slimmest margin for error.
“When you score two runs, the margin for error is so small, and that’s what can happen. I think that’s really what hurt us tonight,” Anderson said. “We put Scott in a tough situation. He’s not going to be perfect.”
Matyas said it wasn’t a matter of taking the nonconference opponent lightly, but that recently left-handed hitters have been teeing off on his first-pitch fastballs.
“I thought I threw fine. They put some good swings on the ball,” Matyas said. “It’s one of those times where you tip your hat to the opposing team and go after them the next time.”
Slugger Nick O’Shea, Andy Henkemeyer and Trip Schultz didn’t make the trip because of a class presentation.
Minnesota (16-18) had just four hits entering the eighth inning before the middle of the order finally woke up.
Justin Gominsky led off the top of the eighth with a single and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Matt Puhl, who replaced O’Shea as the team’s cleanup hitter, struck out for the first out.
Puhl went 0-for-4 but hit a warning track fly ball to the deepest part of the park in center field.
Dan Olinger, who played baseball in the Fargo-Moorhead area before moving to Montana, drove in Gominsky with a single and came around to score on a Kyle Geason double. But the Gophers never got closer.
Starter DJ Snelten went three innings and gave up a run. Fellow left-handed freshman Tom Windle relieved Snelten with three innings of scoreless ball, recorded five strikeouts and sent the last seven men he faced back to the dugout in order.
Billy Soule came on in relief and pitched a scoreless seventh inning before he was staked a 2-1 lead. He promptly hit the leadoff batter and walked the second man to put runners on first and second with nobody out.
Scott Matyas trotted on in search of a six-out save and surrendered a double off the bat of Tim Colwell to tie the score at 2-2.
Facing second and third and no outs, Matyas got an infield pop out and a strikeout before intentionally walking the leadoff hitter to load the bases.
Pinch hitter Tyler Steen then cleared the bases with a double to right center before Matyas got out of the inning with a strikeout.
While Windle’s performance was the bright spot in the bullpen tune-up game, both Geason’s and Gominsky’s hitting provided the offensive highlights for Minnesota.
Anderson said he made adjustments during the week to each hitter’s swing. Geason went 3-for-4 with two doubles, and Gominsky finished with a 3-for-5 night.
With the midweek game behind them, the Gophers will get back to conference play Friday in Michigan. Minnesota is currently tied for fourth place in the Big Ten, just two games out of first.