NCAA tournament baseball made its debut at the new Siebert Field on Friday night, and the home team put on a show for the sellout crowd of 2,291.
Sparked by a five-run second inning, hot hitting by All-America shortstop Terrin Vavra and a solid outing from starter Reggie Meyer, the Gophers defeated Canisius 10-1 in the NCAA Minneapolis Regional.
Top-seeded Minnesota (42-13) advanced to a Saturday night game against No. 2 seed UCLA, which edged Gonzaga 6-5 in Friday's regional opener.
"It was a good start for us," Gophers coach John Anderson said, "and just a great environment."
Meyer gave up one run and five hits over eight innings. The junior righthander wasn't as sharp as he was in the Big Ten tournament when he shut out Illinois, but he still struck out six and walked only one.
"I didn't quite have my best stuff, but the defense behind me was making plays, like they always do," said Meyer, who improved to 8-3. "It also helps to relax when we are able to put up a bunch of runs like that."
The Gophers made quick work of Golden Griffins ace J.P. Stevenson, chasing him after 3⅓ innings. The Canadian lefthander, who was 10-1 with a 2.54 ERA entering the game, gave up seven runs and nine hits — four for extra bases.
"We were able to have the big five-run inning to give us some room to operate," Anderson said. "If you have a big inning in the NCAA tournament, it can really benefit you."
Vavra was key in the Gophers' offensive outburst, going 3-for-5 with a run-scoring triple in the second and a two-run single in the fifth. Six other Gophers also drove in runs.
"It's a constant grind," Canisius coach Matt Mazurek said of the Gophers' attack.
The Gophers, playing host to their first regional since 2000, took control in that five-run second.
Micah Coffey led it off with a sharp double to right, and Cole McDevitt reached on an error by the third baseman. Alex Boxwell delivered a perfect bunt down the third-base line and beat out the throw to load the bases. Coffey scored on a wild pitch for a 1-0 lead. Jordan Kozicky was hit on an elbow pad by a pitch, but plate umpire Jason Bradley ruled it strike three because Kozicky didn't try to avoid the pitch.
No matter. Toby Hanson doubled to score McDevitt, and Luke Pettersen followed with a groundout that scored Boxwell. Ben Mezzenga's single scored Hanson, and Vavra laced a triple for a 5-0 lead.
"Any time we can get a run on the board, we feed off that," Vavra said. "We were just happy to get one across in that inning, and luckily it turned into more than that."
Canisius (35-21) got its only run on Christ Conley's double in the third, but the Gophers answered with five more runs over the next three innings.
Next for the Gophers on Saturday — weather permitting — is UCLA (37-19). Minnesota, which lost 6-1 to the Bruins on March 4 at U.S. Bank Stadium, will start righthander Patrick Fredrickson (9-0, 1.78 ERA), the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year and Freshman of the Year.
"They have an outstanding pitching staff and they really play defense," Anderson said. "You're going to earn every run you're going to get against UCLA.''
UCLA 6, Gonzaga 5: The second-seeded Bruins rallied with four runs in the bottom of the ninth inning off Casey Legumina to beat the third-seeded Bulldogs (32-23).
Legumina opened the ninth by hitting Ryan Kreidler, and RJ Teiheiro followed with a double, putting runners at second and third. After a groundout, Kevin Kendall and Chase Strumpf followed with run-scoring singles, and Michael Toglia hit a ground-rule double to tie the score 5-5. Jake Pries' sacrifice fly scored Strumpf with the winning run.
UCLA's rally overcame a solid start by Gonzaga starter Daniel Bies, who gave up two runs and five hits in 7⅔ innings while throwing 137 pitches.