After scoring just four runs in three games against Ohio State on the weekend, the Gophers baseball team will now head to Columbus, Ohio, for the Big Ten tournament.
Minnesota dropped two-of-three to the Buckeyes after sitting out two rainout postponements, but clinched a tournament berth with its one in the series.
The two teams split a double-header Thursday. Head coach John Anderson said afterward that he would have preferred to not play a double-header because they’ve historically been conducive to splits.
“It’s hard to win a double-header on the same day,” Anderson said. “The teams are even, the talent is even on both teams. Traditionally you don’t see teams win both games.”
Troy Larson clinched a Big Ten tournament berth for Minnesota (22-22 overall, 13-11 Big Ten) with a walk-off winner in the first contest. The top six teams in the conference advance to the tournament at the season’s end, and Thursday’s win assured the Gophers would be one of those teams.
The clubs entered the bottom of the ninth knotted at two runs apiece. A Justin Gominsky walk and a subsequent balk by the pitcher put the winning run in scoring position. Dan Olinger grounded out and Nick O’Shea was intentionally walked.
Larson stepped in as the pinch-hitter and smoked a ground ball to the shortstop who booted the ball, allowing it to trickle into centerfield as Gominsky crossed the plate with the winning run. Teammates mobbed him and congratulated Larson for his big pinch-hit in the 3-2 win.
The teams then headed back to their respective dugouts to prepare for the second game of the twin bill.
Phil Isaksson started and took the loss after tossing five innings of three-run ball. He struck out six and walked three, but a misplay by Gominsky in centerfield may have cost him at least two runs.
With two runners on in the fifth inning, a fly ball was lofted to center and Gominsky came charging in before slamming on the breaks and retreating as the ball sailed over his head. By the time he could retrieve it, two runs had scored and the batter was standing on third with a triple.
Minnesota eventually fell 5-1.
TJ Oakes pitched seven strong innings in the matinee in which he allowed only two earned runs while striking out five to just one walk.
The rubber game of the series was postponed until Saturday after rain on Friday, and then rain Saturday morning pushed back the start a full two hours.
The Gophers were shut out in the final game, as Austin Lubinsky took the loss in a 3-0 defeat.
Anderson and several players admitted after the game there was a noticeable lack of enthusiasm because there was relatively little on the line.
“I didn’t think we had a lot of energy [Saturday] to be honest with you,” Anderson said. “We didn’t swing the bats well and it’s hard to win when you don’t score runs.”
After Minnesota clinched the tournament Thursday, Illinois sealed the two seed which earned them the final bye, meaning the Gophers’ could not earn a first-round regardless of Saturday’s outcome.
“You like to think that there wasn’t a letdown, but it almost felt like there was at times,” Scott Matyas said.
Matyas and the six other seniors on the Gophers’ roster were honored after the game Saturday as part of senior day.
The Gophers will now travel to Clomubus as the No. 5 seed to face No. 4 OSU in the Big Ten tournament's opening round and Matyas contends that despite an offense that has been inept frequently this season, Minnesota is a team nobody wants to draw.
“I think morale has got to be up,” he said. “I still believe that nobody wants to play us in the first round and nobody wants to play us throughout the tournament with the pitching we have.”
The problem all season has not been the pitching or the defense that faltered to a three-error performance Saturday, but rather the anemic offense.
Several batters are marred in slumps and Anderson said he thinks it’s wearing on hitters mentally.
“I think some of them are grinding pretty hard right now,” he said. “It’s a fragile game; it’s a game of failure. If you don’t have enough success it can really wear on you. Our problems right now are from the neck up.”
“There’s not a lot of shuffling left to do,” Anderson said referring to his many unsuccessful attempts this season to jolt the offense by moving people around in the order.
“At some point we just are who we are and we’ll need the guys to step up to score some more runs.”