For the first time since 1977, the Gopher Baseball team advanced through the Regional round of the NCAA Tournament, defeating UCLA 13-8 in the NCAA Minneapolis Regional final in front of a sold out crowd at Siebert Field.
The No. 14 national seed Minnesota (44-13) will play in its first ever Super Regional (Teams advanced straight to the College World Series straight from the Regional in 1977), doing so on the same site of their last regional title. The Gophers defeated Florida in the finals of the Mideast Regional at the old Siebert Field (then-Bierman Field). John Anderson served as a student assistant for that team and, this year, achieves his first Regional title as a head coach.
After a pitcher’s duel in their first outing, the two teams traded offensive jabs early and neither team’s starter got an out in the third. Toby Hanson provided the biggest punch for No. 14 Minnesota when he launched a three-run home run in the bottom of the second to chase Bruins starter Jack Ralston after just 1.1 innings, surrendering four runs on three hits. Jake Stevenson did not fare much better, pitching 2+ innings while surrendering four earned runs on four hits and a pair of walks.
“Before the [home run] he threw eight balls in a row,” said Hanson after the game. “I looked at [Coach Anderson] and he asked me what’s my plan, and I said if Iget a pitch I’m going to take a hack at it. I got a good pitch there and was able to lift it out of the park there. It felt good and got us going a little bit. They answered in the next half inning, but we just kept constant pressure on the whole game 1-through-9.”
Both teams scored in each of the first three innings as Minnesota put up another crooked number in the bottom of the third. After Cole McDevitt nearly left the field with a warning track sacrifice fly to left, Alex Boxwell lifted his second home run of the weekend to help the Gophers regain the lead while also forcing UCLA (38-21) to make a second pitching change in the first three innings.
“The hitters came in after we got behind there and took Jake Stevenson out of the game and said, ‘Hey, the pitching staff has been carrying us. It’s our turn today to do something to help us win today,” said head coach John Anderson after the game. “Bringing a Regional back to Siebert Field, I wouldn’t want to have done it with any other team than the team that’s here with me today. It’s just a wonderful group that has taken on every challenge.”
After Jackson Rose (5-1) gave Minnesota the game’s first scoreless inning in the top of the fourth, the Gophers plated six runs in the bottom of the fourth. Eli Wilson and Boxwell each drove in a pair, and McDevitt was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded before scoring on a passed ball later in the inning. UCLA added another run of its own in the top of the fifth, but the Maroon & Gold still led 13-6 at the midway point of the game.
Rose (5-1) threw 4.0 innings of relief to earn the victory, scattering five hits while allowing just one run, striking out two. Nick Scheidler (1-1) surrendered three runs on two hits in 1.1 innings to draw the loss for the Bruins. Brett Schulze continued the effective relief work for the Gophers with 2.0 shutout innings, striking out three. The Bruins got 3.0 hitless innings from Holden Powell and added two runs in the ninth, but could not do enough to overcome the early deficit created by the Gopher offense.
Terrin Vavra finished 2-for-4 in the game, scoring two runs on the day, en route to earning a spot on the All-Tournament Team and the Regional’s Most Outstanding Player honor.
“We knew that in this format, these games are not necessarily about pitching because a lot of times pitching goes out the window after those first couple games,” said Vara. “We knew that they were running out of arms, and so were we at some point. We didn’t try to change our approach. We just went up there with the same mentality.”
UCLA defeated Gonzaga 10-4 in an elimination game earlier in the day to advance to the final rematch. Ryan Garcia took a no-hit bid into the seventh inning, finishing with three runs allowed in 7.1 innings while striking out nine for the Bruins.
“I wouldn’t say I felt [extra] pressure necessarily. I was just trying to relax and have good at-bats. The pitchers obviously did an unbelievable job this weekend throwing super well. We felt like today was a big day to break out regardless of if our pitchers threw up another zero or if they gave up a few runs. We were prepared to come out, string together good at bats and put up some runs.”- Alex Boxwell on picking up the pitchers against UCLA
Jackson Rose matched his career high with 4.0 innings … Toby Hanson lifted his first home run since March 16 at TCU … for the second time in the weekend, Minnesota set an attendance record for the new Siebert Field with 2,425 fans.
P – Max Meyer (Minnesota)
P – Ryan Garcia (UCLA)
C – Auston Pinorini (Gonzaga)
1B – Michael Toglia (UCLA)
2B – Chase Strumpf (UCLA)
SS – Terrin Vavra (Minnesota)
3B – Micah Coffey (Minnesota)
OF – Branson Trube (Gonzaga)
OF – Daniel Amaral (UCLA)
OF – Alex Boxwell (Minnesota)
DH – Toby Hanson
Most Outstanding Player: Terrin Vavra
Minnesota will head to Corvallis, Oregon for the NCAA Super Regional and a three-game series against No. 3 seed Oregon State. Game dates times are yet to be announced, but the series will be played Friday, June 8 through Sunday, June 10 or Saturday, June 9 through Monday, June 11.
(info and photo courtesy of Gopher Sports)