Gophers, Huskers victorious in Big Ten tourney
Minnesota hosting conference's first tournament at big league ballpark
MINNEAPOLIS -- The University of Minnesota provided a stylish opening for the 2013 Big Ten baseball tournament Wednesday at Target Field in the conference's first tourney to be held at a Major League ballpark.
No. 4 seed Minnesota's Andy Henkemeyer lined a single with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth inning as the Gophers rallied for a 3-2 opening-round victory against Illinois.
The Gophers, with a tournament title likely their only way to get into the upcoming NCAA tournament, held Illinois in check for the majority of the rainy afternoon after falling into a 2-0 hole early on.
All-Big Ten first-team starting pitcher Tom Windle, who ranks at No. 29 on MLB.com's list of the top 100 Draft prospects, was far from sharp for Minnesota, but he worked his way out of multiple jams. With Twins general manager Terry Ryan in attendance, Windle fended off a bloated pitch count and six walks to keep Illinois to only two runs in five innings.
Illinois repeatedly botched chances at opening up a large lead, leaving the bases loaded three times en route to stranding 13 baserunners. Starter Kevin Duchene, recently named the Big Ten's Freshman of the Year, was solid, but eventually allowed Minnesota to tie the game at 2 in the fifth inning.
A controversial call at home plate resulted in the Gophers drawing even with Illinois. Illini catcher Jason Goldstein appeared to have landed the tag on sprawling baserunner Troy Larson, but Larson was called safe.
"I don't go out on the field very often," said Illini coach Dan Hartleb, who quickly came out of the dugout to argue. "It's just part of the game. ... We still had many opportunities. That should not have affected us."
Catcher Matt Halloran's leadoff single in the ninth set the Gophers up for their eventual walk-off victory, capped by Henkemeyer's third hit and second RBI of the game.
Nebraska received the potentially momentum-building jolt it was looking for Thursday in the opening round of the Big Ten baseball tournament.
Sophomore starting pitcher Kyle Kubat, who carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning, baffled No. 6 seed Michigan as the Huskers breezed to an 11-1 victory on the initial day of the first Big Ten tourney at Target Field.
Unaffected by the dreary and cold afternoon backdrop, Kubat allowed Michigan just one hit in seven innings. It was a start that carried an extra layer of meaning for Kubat, coming one day after attending his grandmother's funeral.
"It was tough, but after the funeral, I knew I needed to be here with my Husker family," Kubat said. "It was an emotional start, but I know she was looking down, and it was a fun game to pitch in."
The Huskers (26-28), in their pursuit to keep their NCAA tournament aspirations alive, gave Kubat plenty of support to work with. Highlighted by center fielder sophomore Austin Darby's two-hit, four-RBI performance, Nebraska posted a trio of three-run innings.
Michigan pulled starter James Bourque in the fifth inning after Darby's three-run double boosted Nebraska's lead to seven runs. The Huskers continued to hammer the Wolverines' pitching staff, forcing them to go through three relievers -- an unwanted burden early in the tournament.
The shutout was broken in the ninth inning when Michigan picked up three of its five hits at reliever Colton Howell's expense.
Wolverines center fielder Michael O'Neill, a notable prospect in the upcoming MLB Draft (No. 86 on MLB.com's top-100 prospects list), went 0-for-4 with a strikeout.
Michigan (29-26) is now on the wrong side of the double-elimination bracket, with a victory needed in Thursday's matchup with Illinois (12 p.m. CT) in order to prevent an early tournament exit.
Illinois lost to Minnesota on a walk-off single in Game 1 earlier Wednesday afternoon. The Gophers will face top-seed and the Big Ten regular-season champion Indiana on Thursday (7:05 p.m.), while Nebraska is slated to meet No. 2 Ohio State (3:35 p.m.)
Nate Sandell is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.