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Gophers Open Big Ten Season with Sweep of No. 19 Michigan
After a lackluster performance during their non-conference schedule, which produced a won-lost record of 7-11, the Minnesota Gophers opened their Big Ten season with a four-game series against the Michigan Wolverines, a team ranked 19th in the country coming into the series.
Michigans 16-3 record came mainly against in-state opponents, but their average of 8.1 runs scored per game seemed formidable, and the Wolverines also would be using two pitchers against the Gophers who had records of 4-0 with earned-run averages under 2.00.
The series opener Friday night pitted Michigans Jim Brauer, with a 4-0 record and 1.97 ERA, against Minnesotas Matt Loberg, who was 3-2. Brauer pitched a complete game and gave up only four hits, but he walked five batters, including one that produced the games only run. Tony Leseman led off the last of the second with a walk on a 3-2 pitch, then scored on a double to left by Kevin Carlson, a drive that Brad Roblin gloved with a diving stab but was unable to hang on to when he hit the ground.
Loberg gave up only four hits and two walks, as well as a hit batter, and struck out six over eight innings. John Gaub worked the ninth, giving up a one-out single and then striking out the next two batters, to save the 1-0 win.
Saturday afternoon brought a pair of seven-inning games, and once again the Gophers took an early lead as Mike Mee walked with two out in the last of the first, went to second on a passed ball, and scored on a single by Andy Hunter. Cole DeVries held onto the lead until the sixth inning when he gave up a leadoff double to pinch-hitter Derek VanBuskirk. Roblin then singled off DeVriess glove with Van Buskirk going to third. After Eric Rose struck out, Matt Butler delivered a sacrifice fly to right to tie the score.
The Gophers got the lead back in the bottom of the inning on Luke MacLeans two-out, run-scoring single. Gaub came on in the seventh to try for another save. However, he hit the leadoff batter, Kyle Bohm, on a 1-2 pitch. Bohm went to second on a ground out and scored to tie the game as Jeff Kunkel lined a single to right-center.
The game went into extra innings and finally ended in the last of the ninth. Tony Leseman was hit by a pitch with one out. Jeremy Chlan bunted, and pitcher Jef Niemiec field the ball and threw wildly to first. The ball skipped into the right-field bullpen, and when right-fielder Matt Butler was unable to dig it out from under the bullpen bench, Leseman was able to score all the way from first, giving the Gophers a 3-2 win.
Michigan got on the board first in the second game of the doubleheader, scoring in the top of the third, an inning in which Roblin was beaned by Gophers starter Josh Oslin. In the bottom of the third, Michigan starter Paul Hammond hit leadoff hitter Tony Leseman with the first pitch in apparent retaliation for the beaning of Roblin. It was a costly move as Leseman went to second on a balk and scored to tie the game on a two-out single by David Hrncirek.
The Wolverines took back the lead in the fourth on a two-run bunt single by Rose. With runners and second and third and one out, Rose bunted toward first base. Hunter flipped to Oslin, but Rose beat Oslin to the bag. In addition to Kunkel, who was on third, scoring, VanBuskirk came all the way home from second on the play. The game was then delayed nine minutes as an ambulance came on to the field and drove to the Michigan dugout to take Roblin away.
Minnesota scored twice in the bottom of the fourth to tie the game at 3-3. The Gophers loaded the bases with no out in the last of the fifth. However, Jake Elder popped out and Andy Hunter lined to short. Kevin Carlson then lifted a fly ball down the left-field. Mike Schmidt, who had entered as a pinch runner for Roblin and then took his place in left, was unable to reach the ball before it hit the turf. The ball then bounced over Schmidts head, and all three runners scored, giving the Gophers a 6-3 lead and completing the scoring in the game. Brian Bull got the win by pitching three innings of perfect relief.
The series concluded on Sunday, and Michigan had Derek Feldkampwith a 4-0 record and 1.29 ERAon the mound. Minnesota countered with Dustin Brabender. Brabender got into immediate trouble, walking the first two batters of the game. However, he escaped the inning with only one run allowed, and the Gophers got it back in the bottom of the inning.
Jake Elder opened the bottom of the second with a single, and Feldkamp then hit the next three batters with pitches, forcing in the go-ahead run. The inning got worse for Feldkamp as the Gophers scored seven runs to take an 8-1 lead.
Brabender was unable to qualify for the win, however, as he was taken out in the third inning as Michigan scored twice. Andy Peters, who pitched 4-1/3 innings of three-hit relief, got his first win of the season as Minnesota went on to a 13-3 win.
The sweep put the Gophers atop the conference standings, along with Illinois, with a 4-0 record.
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