COLLEGE STATION, TEXAS – Whether it was the matter of one hit or one hitter, Minnesota’s late rally fell short in the opening game of the College Station regional on Friday at Texas A&M’s Blue Bell Park.
Wake Forest showed off its power with three home runs, and starter Parker Dunshee dominated early to give the Demon Deacons enough leeway to come away with a 5-3 victory over the Gophers, who had the tying run at the plate at the end despite trailing 5-0 going into the eighth inning.
“The key was we were trying to get to Matt [Fiedler] and Austin [Athmann],” Minnesota coach John Anderson said of the ninth inning. “If we could have gotten them to the plate and if Connor [Schaefbauer] gets on base the drama increases significantly. We tried to get our third hole hitter to the plate and we came up one hitter short.”
Fiedler had put the Gophers on the board with a two-run homer the previous inning to chase Dunshee, but was left at the on-deck circle after closer Will Craig moved over from third base to get Dan Motl and Schaefbauer to ground out with Alex Boxwell in scoring position.
The Demon Deacons (35-25) spoiled Minnesota’s first showing in the NCAA tournament since 2010 and sent the Gophers’ (34-21) into the elimination game at 3 p.m. on Saturday against Binghamton, which lost 4-2 to Texas A&M.
“We are battle tested, adversity is nothing new to us and nothing phases us at all so we will bring it the rest of the weekend,” Fiedler said. “We plan on being here until the very end.”
The problem Friday was the Gophers didn’t get going until the end, in part thanks to Dunshee, who struck out 11 and gave up only five hits, only three of which came in the first seven innings.
“I thought he was the difference in the game today, no doubt about it,” Anderson said. “He was able to pitch the fastball to the four corners of the strike zone and mix in enough changups and curve balls to keep you honest.”
Minnesota threatened to get more than Fiedler’s homer in the eighth. Athmann and Micah Coffey followed Fiedler’s eighth homer of the season with sharply hit singles before Tarrin Vavre’ lined out to center field to end the threat.
“I thought we had a chance to get back in the game in the 8th when Terrin Vavre squared one up and it went right at the center fielder,” Anderson said. “If it goes in the gap we got a one-run game.”
Jordan Smith made it a two-run game with one out in the ninth, blasting his third homer of the season.
It was homers though by the Deacons that made the difference early.
Leadoff hitter Joey Rodriguez belted a two-run homer in the third inning that was so well hit the ball hit his name on the scoreboard way above the 375-foot sign in left field.
In the sixth, the Deacons made it 5-0 with solo homers by Kevin Conaway, his ninth, and Johnny Aiello, his seventh, off starter Dalton Sawyer.
“[Sawyer] didn’t have typical command of his breaking ball today,” Anderson said. “He got some swing and misses on it but he got behind, behind, behind [in the count] and the pitch count got up there. Credit them, they hit ‘em.”
Sawyer had only given up three home runs in 88 innings going into the regional opener.
Coffey was the only Gopher with two hits, doubling his first at-bat to extend his team best hitting streak to 18 games.
The Gophers were greeted on the field by an on deck mat honoring Minnesota pitching coach Todd Oakes, who died on May 26 of leukemia.
“That was special,” Coffey said. “First of all I couldn’t believe an organization could be classy enough to do that for us. That was unbelievable, and like Matt [Fiedler] said baseball is kind of family. Just really, really respectful.”