OMAHA – The Gophers baseball team completed its own version of the Triple Crown on Sunday by winning the Big Ten tournament championship and being named as one of 16 host schools for the first weekend of the NCAA tournament.
Minnesota will play Canisius in its first game of a four-team double-elimination regional at 7 p.m. Friday at Siebert Field. UCLA and Gonzaga will play in the other game. The regional champ advances to a best-of-three superregional.
Add to that a Big Ten regular-season championship, and it’s quite the trifecta for the Gophers.
The top-seeded Gophers beat second-seeded Purdue 6-4 on a scorching day at TD Ameritrade Park to complete an undefeated run through the conference tournament. They won four games in five days, outscoring their opponents 20-7, to automatically qualify for the NCAA tournament.
The Gophers are the first Big Ten team to win the regular-season and conference tournament championships in the same season since Indiana in 2014. It is their first conference tournament title since 2010 and their 10th overall, breaking a tie with Michigan and Ohio State for most in Big Ten history.
The Gophers will learn on Monday morning who else will be playing at Siebert Field beginning on Friday. Four teams will compete over four days in a double-elimination tournament. The winner will advance to one of eight Super Regionals the following week.
“I’m really happy for the team,” coach John Anderson said. “They earned and deserved it. To be able to host a regional and represent the Big Ten is great.”
This will be the Gophers’ 32nd NCAA tournament appearance, also a Big Ten best. They are 41-13 — their first 40-win season since 2009 — and have won 27 of their past 30 games. They haven’t played an NCAA tournament game at home since 2000.
After Sunday’s final out, the Gophers celebrated wildly on the field and gave Anderson a Gatorade shower.
Outfielder Jordan Kozicky was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player after going 5-for-13 with three RBI, a run scored and a stolen base. He was joined on the all-tournament team by four of his teammates: pitchers Patrick Fredrickson and Reggie Meyer, second baseman Luke Pettersen and designated hitter Toby Hanson.
Sunday’s game was close throughout. Ben Mezzenga singled in the go-ahead run in the sixth inning and threw out what would have been the tying run at home in the eighth.
“It’s an outfielder’s dream to come up and fire a guy out like that,” Mezzenga said.
Pinch runner Charlie Nasuti tried to score from second when Evan Warden singled into left field with two outs, but Mezzenga came up throwing to nab Nasuti. The play was upheld after a video review.
“Ben has progressed very well as an outfielder in this program,” Anderson said. “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.”
The Gophers tacked on an insurance run in the eighth when Terrin Vavra, who homered in the third, doubled.
Sam Thoresen (2-2) pitched 1 ⅓ innings of relief for the victory. Max Meyer worked the eighth and ninth for his school-record tying 16th save. Trevor Cheaney (1-2) took the loss.
The Boilermakers’ loss was their first in eight games, and they have won 21 of 24 since April 20. They were picked 11th in the 14-team Big Ten but made a surprise run to second place. Purdue is in line for an at-large NCAA bid, as are Indiana (38-17), Ohio State (36-22) and Illinois (33-20).
Staff writer Joel Rippel and the Associated Press contributed to this report.