The Gopher Baseball team claimed the tenth Big Ten Championship in program history, defeating Purdue 6-4 in a back-and-forth battle in Sunday’s tournament final at T.D. Ameritrade Park to earn the conference’s automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.
No. 11 Minnesota (41-13) came back from down a run on three separate occasions in the contest. Purdue scored first, taking advantage of a pair of two-out hits in the first inning against starter Nick Lackney, who would settle in to allow just the one run while striking out three in 4.0 innings.
Eli Wilson started the scoring against Purdue (37-19) as he lifted a solo home run on the first pitch of the second inning, and Terrin Vavra gave the Gophers their first lead with a solo shot of his own in the third against starter Andrew Bohm, who surrendered just the two runs on three hits in 3.0 innings of work. The Boilermakers scored a pair of runs in the fifth against reliever Brett Schulze with an RBI single by Skyler Hunter and a double by Jacson McGowan.
The Maroon & Gold were quick to answer when Toby Hanson led off the fifth with a single, advancing a base on Luke Pettersen’s sacrifice bunt and coming in to score on an RBI single by Ben Mezzenga. Purdue had two, two-out hits in the sixth against Schulze, eventually scoring the go-ahead run. Sam Thoresen (2-2) entered for the final out of the inning, getting some help from his defense as the Gophers caught Hunter Shipley leaning on a pick-off by catcher Eli Wilson.
Minnesota took the lead for good in the bottom of the sixth against Trevor Cheaney (1-2). Alex Boxwell, Pettersen, and Mezzenga all singled in the inning, with the latter two hits providing the game-tying and go-ahead runs. After a hitless seventh by Thoresen, who struck out one in 1.1 innings, the Gophers handed the ball to All-Big Ten First Team closer Max Meyer.
The Boilermakers threatened for a run in the eighth with a double by DH Evan Kennedy and a single by Evan Warden, but the defense came through again as Ben Mezzenga threw out pinch-runner Charlie Nasuti at the plate with a direct throw to Wilson to tag him out at the plate.
“That inning, I started leaving balls up a little more than I wanted to,” said Meyer after the game. “[Warden] got under it and ripped a hit to left. I knew Mezzenga had a play. He made a great throw in a big situation, and I was thankful. It was an awesome play.”
“Ben has progressed very well as an outfielder in this program,” said head coach John Anderson. “I was watching if he would secure the ball, set his feet and make the throw. That’s a lot of growth from where he started in this program to make that play. He’s grown and developed into an outfield who can play at a high level. A lot of kids will rush it and … not ever give themselves a chance, and that was the impressive part to me.”
After being intentionally walked twice in the game, Vavra got another chance to swing the bat in the bottom of the eighth against Purdue closer Ross Learnard, ripping an RBI double to deep right field that scored Hanson, who was 2-for-4 on the day.
Meyer then worked three straight ground ball outs, including a ranging play by Vavra at short, to close out the victory for Minnesota.
“We all knew what we were capable of doing. Last year didn’t end the way we wanted to, and going into this year, we knew we had a talented team and there was no reason we couldn’t make a run at this things. To be able to come away with both the regular season and tournament titles is awesome, but we know in our locker room we have a lot of work to do.” – Terrin Vavra on achieving the team goals coming into the season
Jordan Kozicky earned the title of Most Outstanding Player of the Tournament after going 5-for-13 with three RBIs, a run scored, and a stolen base … Kozicky, pitchers Reggie Meyer and Patrick Fredrickson, second baseman Luke Pettersen, and designated hitter Toby Hanson earned spots on the All-Tournament Team … Max Meyer tied Brian Glowicki for the program record for saves in a single season, 16, a record that stood just one season before it was matched.
The Gopher Baseball received a top-16 seed in the 2018 NCAA Baseball Tournament and will host the Minneapolis Regional from Friday, June 1 to Monday, June 4 on campus at Siebert Field as announced Sunday night on NCAA.com and the ESPN Bottom Line.
This marks the first time Minnesota will host NCAA Baseball Tournament action in Minneapolis since hosting the Minneapolis Regional in 2000.
The top sixteen seeds were announced Sunday as hosts of the sixteen regional tournaments. The remainder of the field, including official seeds and the teams who will compete alongside the Gophers in Minneapolis this weekend, will be revealed Monday, May 28 in a live broadcast on ESPNU at 12 p.m. ET/11 a.m. CT.
The four-team, double elimination regional bracket will feature two games each day with an if-necessary seventh game on Monday. Game times have yet to be determined. The Gophers will match up against the region’s fourth seed in game one Friday while the second and third seeds meet on the other side of the bracket. All NCAA Tournament games will be shown on the ESPN family of networks.
Beginning at 8 p.m. Sunday, all-session passes go on sale to current Gopher Score Members. Tuesday, May 29 at 12 p.m. Noon, all-session passes will go on sale to the general public. On Thursday, May 31 at 9 a.m., single session tickets will be released to the general public. To purchase tickets, click here: z.umn.edu/MBAPostSeason2018.
All-session tickets can be purchased at a cost of $90 for a reserved stadium seat, $60 for an adult reserved bench seat, or $50 for a student, youth, or senior bench seats. Single-game tickets will be priced at $20 for remaining stadium seats while bench seats will be $12 for adults and $10 for students, youth, and seniors.
Minnesota celebrated the program’s 24th Big Ten Regular Season Championship and 10th Big Ten Tournament Championship this season, earning the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Gophers will seek the program’s fourth National Championship and first since 1964. The Maroon & Gold punch their ticket to the big dance for the 32nd time in school history and first since 2016.