A matchup between reigning Big Ten tournament champions and reigning Big Ten regular season champions was sure to be a much anticipated matchup among fans.
And with a 2017 record 2,342 fans in attendance at Bill Davis Stadium, there were plenty of eyes set to take in a Friday night matchup between a pair of heavyweight pitchers.
Those fans were treated to quite the pitching battle between the two starters, but the Gophers bullpen held on to the late lead they were given and helped propel Minnesota to the 5-2 victory in the Big Ten opener for both teams.
The Gophers got on the scoreboard first with a sacrifice fly off the bat of junior first baseman Toby Hanson in the top of the third inning, scoring junior right fielder Alex Boxwell from third base.
Two innings later, Boxwell would again step up to the plate, and this time crushed the second pitch of the at-bat over the batter’s eye in straight-away center field to give Minnesota a 2-0 lead.
After five anemic innings from the Buckeye offense, it was again the freshman second baseman Noah West who provided his team with a spark.
West extended his hitting streak to five games with a single through the left side. He proceeded to register his first-career stolen base, swiping second and giving the Buckeyes only their second runner in scoring position on the day. And after a bunt single loaded the bases for senior shortstop Jalen Washington, a wild pitch scored West from third to bring the score to 2-1.
A groundout by Washington after the wild pitch scored junior center fielder Tre’ Gantt from third, knotting the game up at two.
With the game tied, OSU coach Greg Beals opted to pull redshirt senior starting pitcher Jake Post in favor of redshirt senior reliever Joe Stoll. Post finished the day with two runs (one earned) over six innings of work. He walked just two while striking out five and giving up seven hits.
Just a half inning later, the Gophers would get the bats going again. With the Buckeyes’ starter out of the game, a walk and a single put runners on the corners for redshirt senior catcher Matt Stemper who rolled a grounder to junior reliever Seth Kinker. Kinker fired on to home, unable to nail the runner at the plate and the Gophers took the 3-2 lead.
A single to right field put the second Gopher run of the inning up on the board and an error in right allowed the runners to reach second and third. Kinker retired the next two batters to keep the game at 4-2.
The Gophers scored once more in the top of the ninth to seal their victory at 5-2.
The bullpen blowing the lead was a tough blow for a team that had battled back to tie the game up late in the game, and Washington believes it took some of the momentum the team had built up out from under them.
“We preach throwing a zero after a big inning,” Washington said. “Came out and got two and we couldn’t stop them the next half inning. We wanted to throw a zero and they got a few hits, maybe a walk or so. But that kind of crushed a bit because we had a bit of momentum going that inning so definitely hurt us a little bit.”
It was Post’s third time this season reaching the sixth inning and his fourth time allowing two runs or fewer in the outing. But for Beals, this was the kind of outing the team was looking for as he was able to keep his team in the ballgame against a tough opponent.
“I think it was kind of a workman’s outing for him,” Beals said. “I thought he did a great job getting through six innings, a quality start for us and that’s what you expect out of the senior to do that. Give his ballclub a chance like he did tonight.”
Post said that he was not his best at the beginning of the game, but settled in and found his groove towards the end.
“It was kind of the same trends as the last three starts,” Post said. “First inning or two, just kind of moving to quick. And then I settle in and I felt a lot more comfortable towards the end of the game, or towards the end of my six innings.”
One big reason the team struggled to provide Post with some runs was a result of the dominant outing turned in by Minnesota’s starting pitcher.
Junior starting pitcher Lucas Gilbreath limited the Buckeyes to two runs, only one earned, across 6.2 innings of work. He did not issue a single walk during the game, while striking out seven batters.
Beals tipped his cap to the opposing pitcher, acknowledging that their southpaw did a fine job keeping the Buckeye batters off-balance all day.
“Gilbreath did a good job, he pitched the ball well, commanded both sides of the plate with his fastball,” Beals said. “We were prepared for arm-side run on the fastball, we weren’t as prepared for him to come inside like he did. I thought he did a good job of keeping our hitters off-balance with the fastball on both sides.”
There has been a change in the OSU baseball schedule. Rather than play on Saturday and Sunday, OSU will face off against Minnesota in a doubleheader on Saturday starting at noon.
Though the change in schedule was not announced until Friday afternoon, Beals said the team will be ready for the matchup and that they are just taking each game one at a time.
“I hate to be cliche, but you can’t think about the doubleheader. We’ve got to win Game 1,” Beals said. “We’re going to go with (sophomore starting pitcher Connor) Curlis still in Game 1 and get a quality start. I think him being a left-hander versus the steady diet of left-handers that are in their lineup ought to be a solid matchup.”
Curlis and sophomore starting pitcher Ryan Feltner will start Game 1 and Game 2 of the doubleheader, respectively. First pitch for Saturday’s game is scheduled for noon.