With one more victory, the Gophers will win an NCAA baseball regional for the first time in 19 tries under veteran coach John Anderson. And Terrin Vavra has a lot to do with giving them the chance.
Vavra ignited rallies and scored the tying run in the eighth inning and the winning run in the 10th as the Gophers defeated UCLA 3-2 in the Minneapolis Regional in front of 2,288 on Saturday night at Siebert Field. The victory advanced Minnesota (43-13) into Sunday’s 6 p.m. championship game, in which it will play the winner of Sunday’s 2 p.m. game between UCLA (37-20) and Gonzaga, which eliminated Canisius 8-2.
The tournament is double-elimination, so if the Gophers win Sunday night, they advance to a best-of-three super regional next weekend. If they lose, the play again at 6 p.m. Monday in the second championship game.
“Another wonderful evening at Siebert Field,” Anderson said. “Fantastic ballgame. Both teams outstanding.”
Vavra led off the top of the 10th with a single to left off Bruins reliever Kyle Mora and was sacrificed to second by Eli Wilson. Micah Coffey then doubled down the right-field line to score Vavra. Gophers closer Max Meyer pitched three shutout innings to get the win, striking out six.
The Gophers, who were the visiting team because UCLA won a coin toss, trailed 2-1 entering the eighth. But Vavra greeted Mora with a double down the left-field line that Jeremy Ydens couldn’t reach. Wilson followed with a sharp single up the middle, and Vavra beat the throw home by inches.
“Regardless of the way the game starts, he always finds a way to make a difference with his bat,” Anderson said of Vavra. “And again tonight we saw that happen.”
Said Coffey: “It felt really good to come through. I was just trying to find a pitch up in the zone that I could hit.”
Saturday night’s game started an hour late because of afternoon rain, then was delayed 37 minutes in the bottom of the first inning because of a lightning strike in the distance. When it got going for good, a pair of freshman starters, the Gophers’ Patrick Fredrickson and the Bruins’ Zach Pettway, engaged in a pitchers’ duel.
Pettway was just a bit better, giving up four hits over seven innings while striking out four, walking one and hitting two batters. Fredrickson gave up two runs and four hits over six innings, striking out seven and walking five. Neither starter figured in the decision.
“Patrick Fredrickson hung in there really good,” Anderson said. “He was a little wound up … but he found a way once again to make the big pitch for us.”
Minnesota nearly took the lead in the ninth, when Jordan Kozicky led off with a double and reached third on a sacrifice. But Bruins second baseman Chase Strumpf ranged to his right and threw across his body to barely retire Ben Mezzenga to end the inning.
“That was playoff baseball at its best,” UCLA coach John Savage said. “There were a lot of exciting defensive plays, big pitches, big at-bats. They just had a couple more big at-bats than we did.”
Said Anderson: “I just kept telling the guys, Siebert Field magic. We’ve won a lot of games this way at the old Siebert Field and now here. Just keep believing in Siebert Field magic, give ourselves chances to win, and we’ll find a way.’’
In the first, Mezzenga lined a one-out triple that Ydens couldn’t keep in front of him. But Pettway struck out Vavra and Wilson to end the threat.
Ydens led off the bottom of the first with a sharp single to left off Fredrickson, but a lightning strike in the distance prompted officials to delay the game. When play resumed at 8:54, Ydens stole second, and Fredrickson walked Kevin Kendall on four pitches. Chase Strumpf grounded out to second, moving the runners to second and third. Michael Toglia hit a sacrifice fly to left that scored Ydens for a 1-0 lead. Fredrickson retired Jake Pries on a fly to right to end the threat.
The Gophers tied it 1-1 in the second when Alex Boxwell drilled a two-out home run to center field. Petway then hit Kozicky with a pitch. Toby Hanson followed with a line-drive single to left. But Luke Pettersen flied out to center to end the threat.
The Bruins quickly responded in the bottom of the second. Daniel Amaral drew a leadoff walk, stole second and took third on Gophers catcher Eli Wilson’s errant throw. After Fredrickson struck out Ryan Kreidler, Garrett Mitchell drove in Amaral for a 2-1 lead on a grounder to first.
Pettway pitched a 1-2-3 third, and Ydens led off the bottom of inning with a triple off the wall in center. Kendall hit a sharp grounder to short and Ydens took off for home, but Vavra, the All-America shortstop, gunned him down by a couple of steps as Wilson applied the tag. After Kendall stole second, Fredrickson struck out Stumpf looking and Toglia swinging to end the threat.
The Gophers threatened in the fourth, when Coffey drew a leadoff walk and Cole McDevitt was hit by a pitch. But Boxwell flied out to short center, Kozicky flied out to deep left-center and Hanson flied out to center.
With two outs in the fourth, UCLA loaded the bases when Kreidler walked, Mitchell singled and Daniel Rosica walked. Fredrickson fanned Ydens to end the inning.
The Gophers got a one-out single by Hanson in the seventh, and Pettersen sacrificed him to second. But Mezzenga grounded out to end the inning. UCLA loaded the bases with two outs, but reliever Brett Schulze struck out Amaral to end the inning.