May 19, 2001
COLUMBUS, Ohio – After rain forced Minnesota (37-19) off the field at Ohio State’s Bill Davis Stadium for two-consecutive days, many would have thought the Golden Gophers might have been a little rusty. With a clear sky and a dry field, UM was finally able to take to the diamond for a battle with Illinois (29-27) and a chance to move on in the Big Ten Tournament in Columbus, Ohio, Saturday. The UM batters, led by third basemen Josh Hannahan, showed no rust at all as they scored early and often on the strength of five homeruns and advanced in the championship bracket of the tournament with a 15-11 defeat of UI.
The Golden Gophers jumped out to an early lead in the top of the first on the strength of two home runs off Illini starter Matt Vorwald. Sam Steidl, after reaching on a first-pitch double down the left field line, and Luke Appert, on a four-pitch walk, scored when Hannahan drove the Vorwald offering over the wall in left to give UM an early 3-0 lead. With one down, Scott Welch came to the plate and stroked a single to center before designated hitter Kurt Haring cleared the bases with the second home run of the inning, giving UM the 5-0 lead. Scott Howard drove in Jason Kennedy, who reached on a double to left on at bat earlier, with a single to center.
The Illini tried to climb back into the game in the bottom half of the first as Andy Schutzenhofer drove a C.J. Woodrow offering to right to bring Brady Ballard home cutting the UM lead to 6-1. The Illini could not plate another runner as Woodrow tallied a strikeout and got Patrick Arlis to into the inning-ending 6-4 forceout of Ballard at second base.
Following an inning and a half of scoreless ball, Luke Simmons looped a shot over the head of UM left fielder Howard with two on and two out to drive in Ballard and T.F. Meagher and cut the Golden Gopher lead in half, 6-3. Both Ballard and Meagher reached base on singles as the Illini also climbed closer to UM in the hit column, 8-6. In the top of the fourth inning, UM’s Josh Holthaus jumped on a Vorwald pitch and deposited it over the left field fence to add to the Golden Gopher lead, 8-3. Hannahan, one batter prior to Holthaus’ sixth home run of the year, reached on a solid single through the right side of the infield.
After the Illini went down in order to close out the bottom half of the fourth, the Golden Gophers regained their six run lead when Kennedy, after reaching on a walk, stole second and was pushed across the plate by a Howard single to left field. Jeremy Beaulieu followed with a walk to end Vorwald’s outing. Vorwald finished the day with 4.1 innings, allowing 12 hits, four walks, four strikeouts and 11 runs, all earned.
Relief-pitcher Craig Lechowicz came on to try and end the offensive explosion by the Golden Gophers but could not as Steidl welcomed him to the game with an RBI single to center. After a sacrifice bunt by Appert that advanced Beaulieu and Steidl to third and second, respectively. Hannahan then recorded his third hit of the day, a single to right, to bring in the two UM baserunners to bring the score to 12-3. The two runs batted in were the fourth and fifth of the day for Hannahan. The Illini again went down on order to finish the fifth.
With one down in the top of the sixth, Haring struck a Lechowicz pitch over the left field fence for the fourth UM home run of the game to extend the lead to 13-3. Lechowicz, after allowing an infield single to Kennedy, got out of the inning when Howard and Beaulieu flew out to center.
The Illini tallied their fourth run of the game in the bottom of the inning when Schutzenhofer and Simmons opened the inning with consecutive doubles. After Arlis popped out to second and Rob Fischer reached on a single to left, Frederickson plated Simmons with a sacrifice fly to UM’s Steidl in center field to bring the score to 13-5.
After another scoreless inning and a half, the Illini comeback continued when it opened the bottom half of the eighth with a single to left by Arlis before Fischer launched his 12th homerun of the year to cut into the Golden Gophers lead, 13-7. The homerun was the final pitch of the game for Woodrow who went seven innings and allowed 12 hits, two strikeouts, no walks and seven runs, all earned. Relief-pitcher Nick McCauley came in and retired the Illini side to preserve the six run lead.
Hannahan continued his MVP season as he tied a Big Ten tournament record with seven RBI’s in a game with a two-run blast to straight away center field. He tied another Golden Gopher, Jeff Monson, who also recorded seven RBI against Indiana during the 1991 tournament.
UI was down to its final out of the game when McCauley could not close the door. He walked both Simmons and Arlis before the last batter he faced, Fischer, roped a single to left to score Simmons and bring the score to 15-8. Jeff Moen replaced McCauley but gave up a three run blast to right field by Frederickson, his first of the year, to bring the score to 15-11. Moen recovered to strikeout Vince DiMaria to end the game and send UM along in the championship bracket.
With the loss, UI faces No. 1 seed Ohio State (42-15) in the 7:05 p.m. game tonight while UM advances to face the winner of the OSU-UI game at 12:35 p.m. Sunday.
Minnesota head coach John Anderson
“Each time they made a run, we answered. The home run by (Josh) Holthaus was huge. They had cut it to three and that gave us a five-run cushion again.
“On the mound, we didn’t handle ourselves very well. We’re young on the mound and we got careless with the big lead.”
“I felt pretty good at the plate. I had been pressing. I just came in relaxed, took a deep breath and hit good pitches. It feels great that I tied the (Big Ten Tournament) record.”
Illinois head coach Itch Jones
“The field didn’t have an effect on the game for either team. They came out and hit the ball.”
“I came out and really didn’t adjust to the strike zone. It was a high strike zone and I didn’t have any control of my pitches. I was throwing a lot of balls right over the middle of the plate. It was probably my worst performance all year.”