OMAHA, Neb. (AP) — Ben Mezzenga singled in the go-ahead run in the sixth inning and threw out what would have been the tying run at home in the eighth, and top-seeded Minnesota beat Purdue 6-4 in the Big Ten Tournament championship game Sunday.
The regular-season champion Gophers (41-13) won their first tournament title since 2010 and 10th in 37 years under coach John Anderson.
Minnesota had outscored the Boilermakers 40-15 in two regular-season games, but this one was close throughout. The Gophers came back three times from one-run deficits in the first six innings. They went ahead in the bottom of the sixth on singles by Luke Pettersen and Mezzenga.
Mezzenga made his huge defensive play after Evan Kennedy doubled off All-Big Ten reliever Max Meyer. Charlie Nasuti pinch ran and tried to score from second when Evan Warden singled into left field with two outs. Mezzenga came up throwing and nailed Nasuti at the plate. The play was upheld after a video review.
Minnesota tacked on an insurance run in the eighth when Tarrin Vavra, who homered in the third, doubled.
Sam Thoresen (2-2) pitched 1 1/3 innings of relief for the win. Meyer worked the eighth and ninth for his 16th save. Trevor Cheaney (1-2) took the loss.
Purdue (37-19) was picked 11th in the 14-team Big Ten but made a surprise run to second place. The Boilermakers’ loss Sunday was their first in eight games, and they’ve won 21 of 24 since April 20.
Minnesota has won 27 of its last 30 and almost certainly will be named one of the 16 regional hosts for the NCAA Tournament.
HEAT IS ON
The last two days of the tournament were played in extreme heat, a contrast to the weather Big Ten teams are accustomed to. Temperature at first pitch Sunday was 97 degrees, and it was 101 by the late innings. A light wind blew in from the southeast.
The Big Ten expects to have five teams selected for the NCAA Tournament on Monday. Minnesota, which came into Sunday No. 14 in the RPI and has its first 40-win season since 2009, is the conference’s automatic qualifier. Purdue, Indiana (38-17), Ohio State (36-22) and Illinois (33-20) are in line for at-large bids.
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