His eyes moist from tears of joy and his voice cracking, John Anderson was at a loss for words.
“I don’t know what to say, to be honest with you. I’m not very often speechless,” the Gophers baseball coach said. “All I can say is wow! What a night, what a three days!”
The Gophers beat UCLA 13-8 on Sunday night in the NCAA Minneapolis Regional championship game in front of a record crowd of 2,425 at Siebert Field, giving the coach his first regional championship in his 37th season at the helm of the successful program.
“I wouldn’t have wanted to do it with any other team than the team that’s with me here today,” Anderson said. “This is a wonderful group that has taken on every challenge.”
Toby Hanson hit a three-run homer, and Alex Boxwell hit a two-run shot and drove in four runs as the Gophers (44-13) advanced to a best-of-three super regional at Oregon State next weekend, with the winner moving on to the College World Series. It’s the first time the Gophers have made it out of the NCAA’s first weekend since 1977.
The dates and times of the super regional have not been announced, but the Gophers, seeded No. 14 nationally, will face the No. 3-seeded Beavers, who defeated Louisiana State 12-0 in the Corvallis Regional final. This will be Minnesota’s first appearance in a super regional, a format adopted in 1999.
“Bring ’em on,” said Gophers All-America shortstop Terrin Vavra, the regional’s Most Outstanding Player. “We know we’re capable of beating anyone in the country.”
Eli Wilson and Cole McDevitt also drove in two runs each as the Gophers teed off on UCLA’s pitching staff. Minnesota scored three runs in both the second and third innings, then took control with a six-run fourth. The Gophers chased UCLA’s Jack Ralston after 1⅓ innings, and the Bruins (38-21), the regional’s No. 2 seed, had to use four more pitchers before the fifth inning was complete.
“The first four innings, we really couldn’t do anything on the mound,” UCLA coach John Savage said, “and it opened up the floodgates.”
The Bruins and Gophers traded runs in the first, and UCLA took a 2-1 lead in the second, before a slick double play started by Vavra got Minnesota out of a jam.
The Gophers took a 4-2 lead in the second when Toby Hanson drilled a first-pitch, three-run homer to left-center off Ralston, who had walked Boxwell and Jordan Kozicky, both on four pitches.
“I looked at 14 [Anderson] and he asked what’s my plan, and I said if I get a pitch, I’m going to take a hack at it,” Hanson said. “… It felt good and got us going a bit.”
UCLA chased Minnesota starter Jake Stevenson with three runs in the third, but the Gophers answered with three in their half of the inning for a 7-5 lead, highlighted by Boxwell’s two-run shot to right-center.
“We felt like today was a big day to break out, regardless of if our pitchers threw up another zero or if they gave up a few runs,” Boxwell said.
Then came the six-run fourth for a 13-5 lead, highlighted by Boxwell’s two-run double. Boxwell was joined on the all-tournament team by Vavra, Hanson, Micah Coffey and Max Meyer.
Though the Bruins scored two runs in the top of the ninth, reliever Fred Manke struck out Jake Hirabayashi looking for the final out, setting off a Siebert celebration.
The moment was bittersweet for Anderson, whose daughter, Erin, couldn’t attend because of a work commitment in Baltimore. “She our biggest fan. … She called me on the way to the airport and she was in tears,” said Anderson, himself fighting back tears. “I promised her that we would win the game, so she could go to the next round with us.”