Gophers Win Big Ten Baseball Title
Rosemont, IL (GopherSports.com) - Minnesota showed its championship resolve to claim the Big Ten regular season title in a 4-3 win on Friday night. Down 3-0, the Gophers (34-17, 16-6 Big Ten) scored all four of their runs in the bottom of the sixth inning, including three with two outs en route to their first league championship since 2010.
Dalton Sawyer put in a solid outing to guide the Maroon and Gold. The southpaw went 7.2 innings and surrendered just two earned runs on five hits to get the win on the hill. Sawyer also netted nine strikeouts, marking the seventh time he’s sent down eight or more in an appearance this season.
Austin Athmann, Toby Hanson and Connor Schaefbauer each secured two-hit games to pace the offense. Micah Coffey, Dan Motl, Jordan Smith and Athmann all crossed the plate once in the nine-inning affair.
Ohio State (37-17-1, 14-9) struck first in the top of the third. After a leadoff walk, the Buckeyes hit a two-run homer to take a 2-0 lead – a margin they would maintain until the sixth inning.
Minnesota put runners on base in the first, second and fourth stanzas, but came up empty after hitting into a pair of double plays to keep the score at 2-0.
Meanwhile, Sawyer was dealing strikeout after strikeout to keep the margin within striking distance. Through six innings, the senior dealt six send-downs and kept the Ohio State hitters off-balance with a healthy mix of fastballs and off-speed pitches.
In the sixth, however, the Buckeyes were able to scratch across another one on a passed ball after the opening two batters got on and worked their way into scoring position.
Down by three runs and continually getting frustrated at the dish, the Gophers refused to give in.
In the home half of the sixth, Minnesota loaded the bases without an out. J. Smith opened by lacing a single to left field. Motl and Schaefbauer then beat out bunt singles, including Schaefbauer’s roller that stayed on the chalk line all the way to third base.
Matt Fiedler then was forced into a double play, but it was enough to get the home team on the board. Athmann then stepped to the dish and smacked an RBI single to the shortstop up the middle. Next, with two strikes, Coffey drilled a triple down the line in right field that scored Athmann and tied the contest at 3-3.
Coffey made an instinctual play in the ensuing at-bat. With Matt Stemper up, a ball was thrown into the dirt and rolled away from the Ohio State catcher. The Batavia, Ill. native turned on the jets and beat a close play at the plate that gave the Gophers the lead at 4-3.
The pitching staff took care of the rest. Sawyer induced two double plays in the seventh and eighth innings, respectively, before his night came to an end.
With two outs, Jordan Jess came on and got the batter to foul out to Hanson at first base to put the title within three outs.
Minnesota was sent down in order in its final chance at the dish, setting up an all-important top of the ninth.
Jess jumped ahead of the hitters and worked a clean final inning, highlighted by the final out coming from a strikeout, to send the Gophers to the Big Ten regular season crown.
A new Siebert Field record of 1,701 were on hand to witness the special occasion and celebrate the conference title.
The regular season champions return to the diamond for Senior Day in the season-finale tomorrow afternoon. First pitch is slated for 2 p.m. with a ceremony for the seniors set to commence at the conclusion of the game.