CORVALLIS, ORE. – After his team was beaten 8-1 onFriday, Gophers baseball coach John Anderson bet on his team’s recent history. Not since early March had his team lost consecutive games. His team had grit, Anderson said, and it would show.
In the second game a best-of-three super regional here against third-ranked Oregon State on Saturday, the Gophers matched the Beavers for most of the night, until the ninth.
Until the ninth.
In the end the Beavers’ relentless lineup proved too much for the Gophers, who led 3-2 entering the eighth inning but left Goss Stadium on the wrong end of a 6-3 score.
A wonderful season that included Big Ten titles in both the regular season and conference tournament and their first-ever trip to a NCAA super regional ended in disappointment, as Anderson hugged senior Micah Coffey before starting the post-game press conference, then answered questions with a voice choked with raw emotion.
“Outstanding baseball game,” Anderson began. “I’m proud of our guys. They got themselves reset and prepared. We were ready to play tonight.”
Showing promise looking ahead, the Gophers got a strong start from Patrick Fredrickson, who allowed two runs over five innings, leaving the game after walking Beavers slugger – and Twins draftee – Trevor Larnach on a ball four call to start the sixth, a call the Gophers clearly didn’t like. Fellow freshman Max Meyer hung tough for three innings, allowing one run, before tiring in the ninth after throwing a season-high 81 pitches.
The Beavers (49-10-1) scored three runs in the ninth to put the game away, putting them in the College World Series for the sixth time since 2005. The Gophers, looking to advance to the CWS for the first time since 1988, finished 44-15.
And here’s how it happened: Meyer got the first out in the ninth. But then, the kind of things that keep coaches up at night. OSU leadoff hitter Steven Kwan hit a nubber down the third base line on a 1-2 count, reaching base. Cadyn Grenier got jammed, but looped a hit to right. Nick Madrigal walked, filling the bases.
Meyer was pulled for Jackson Rose. Rose got Larnach – nearly unstoppable all weekend – to strike out on three pitches. Rose then got ahead of catcher Adley Rutschman 1-2 before Rutschman lined the ball up the middle, scoring two runs.
Oregon State was ahead to stay.
“We’re one pitch away from maybe still playing out there,” Anderson said.
The Gophers had a big chance to stretch their lead. The game was tied in the bottom of the fourth when Terrin Vavra singled and Ben Mezzenga was hit by OSU starter Bryce Fehmel. Both runners advanced on Coffey’s sacrifice, then catcher Eli Wilson was hit, loading the bases with one out.
But the Gophers got just a run. After Alex Boxwell struck out, Jordan Kozicky walked to force a run home before Cole McDevitt flied out to end the inning.
The Gophers again broke a tie game to take a 3-2 lead in the fifth on Coffey’s two-out single that scored Luke Petterson.
And that’s the way it stayed. Until the end.
Christian Chamberlain struck out five batters in two innings to get the win in relief. Meyer took the loss.
Anderson said he’d hoped to ride Fredrickson longer, and thought long and hard before having Meyer start the ninth. Each time his hand was forced.
“It was a well-fought game,” he said. “Lots of emotion, energy in the stadium. I’m really proud of the guys. They competed all year long. There is nothing to hang our hats about.”
Coffey, one of several seniors who helped get the Gophers to their first super regional, said he feels he’s leaving the program in good hands.
“I would hope this senior class has laid a foundation of playing the game the right way, preparing the right way, and doing the right things on and off the field,” he said. “I think that we put together a season where night-in and night-out it took a lot. … I think guys should be ready. Come next year, I do think we’ve laid a foundation for guys who are ready to compete at a really high level.”