One day after celebrating their first Big Ten regular-season baseball title since 2010, the Gophers got a reminder that nothing will come easy at the conference tournament.
Ohio State’s Ronnie Dawson smashed a tying home run in the eighth inning Saturday, and added another towering blast two innings later, giving the Buckeyes a 6-5 victory at Siebert Field.
The No. 24 Gophers went with their “A’’ lineup again for the regular-season finale, knowing every game counts toward the 64-team NCAA tournament selection.
They’ll open the Big Ten tournament as the top seed, facing eighth-seeded Iowa on Wednesday in Omaha.
“As Big Ten champions, with our body of work and our RPI, you would think we’d be in the [NCAA] tournament,” coach John Anderson said. “But things can happen. So we’re going to go [to the Big Ten tourney] and try to win as many games as we can.”
Anderson appreciated his team’s effort, even though the Gophers (16-7 Big Ten) dropped two of three to the third-place Buckeyes (15-9), with all three games decided by one run.
Indiana (15-9) entered the week a half-game behind Minnesota, but the Hoosiers got were at Nebraska (16-8), which won its last six games to finish in second place.
“It should be a great tournament; the top five or six teams were within a few games,” Gophers catcher Austin Athmann said. “That goes to show the quality of baseball that is up here in the north, in the Big Ten.”
The Gophers finished ninth in the Big Ten last year, missing the conference tournament, which stung even more since it was held at Target Field.
Fans responded to their turnaround. Friday’s announced crowd (1,701) was the largest in the four-year history of the new Siebert Field, and an additional 1,354 turned out Saturday for Senior Day.
“It reminds me of the old days at Siebert Field,” Anderson said. “I told the kids, ‘That’s a credit to you. Think about the home crowds we’ve had, and the fun we’ve had with the energy in the stands.’ It was fantastic in here.”
Freshman shortstop Tanner Vavra, who is batting .379, returned from a back injury Thursday but had a setback and missed the rest of the series. Still, Anderson said he was ready to use Vavra as a pinch hitter in the 10th inning Saturday if the shortstop’s spot came up.
Riley Smith started at shortstop but had some hamstring tightness, so Luke Pettersen replaced him.
“It’s going to be day-to-day with [Vavra],” Anderson said.