Big Ten baseball is getting better and better, Gophers coach John Anderson keeps saying. On Thursday night, Indiana helped prove his point.
The Hoosiers are the conference’s showcase team this year, and they looked the part in defeating Minnesota 4-2 in a Big Ten Tournament winner’s bracket game at Target Field.
Indiana (41-13) jumped on Gophers starter DJ Snelten for three first-inning runs and knew that lead was in good hands with Aaron Slegers, the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year.
Slegers (9-1) held Minnesota to one run on five hits over seven innings. He had seven strikeouts, no walks and threw 64 of his 94 pitches for strikes.
The Gophers tried coming back against Indiana’s bullpen in the eighth, as Troy Larson delivered his third hit and scored. Minnesota put two runners on in the ninth, but Hoosiers closer Ryan Halstead struck out Larson to end the game.
Top-seeded Indiana will face Ohio State on Friday night, with the winner advancing to Saturday’s championship game. The fourth-seeded Gophers fell to the loser’s bracket, where they’ll meet Michigan on Friday at noon, with the winner advancing to face Nebraska one hour later.
Indiana entered the tournament ranked 14th in the latest RPI rankings, and other Big Ten teams weren’t far behind, including Illinois (30th), Michigan State (35th), Nebraska (42nd) and Ohio State (62nd).
It’s been enough to make Big Ten coaches hopeful this could be the year they finally land more than three teams in the 64-team NCAA Tournament.
The Gophers (31-21) know they need to win this double-elimination tournament to get into the NCAA tourney with the Big Ten’s automatic bid.
The top-seeded Hoosiers not only led the Big Ten in almost every offensive category this season, they also led the conference with a 2.54 ERA.
Minnesota had one of the lowest-scoring offenses in the Big Ten, but its pitchers ranked second behind Indiana with a 2.86 ERA.