The Gophers will begin their NCAA Tournament run today when they host Wake Forest at 3:00 CST. But before that I wanted to look back at the 1973 team that made it to the College World Series and were it not for one fateful inning, may have walked away as champs.
It was largely on the back of Dave Winfield that the Gophers made their run and his performance in Omaha that year is legendary.
USC was the tournament's top seed and had won three consecutive titles. Minnesota opened with Oklahoma, beating them 1-0 and moving on to the quarterfinals. Winfield pitched that first game, shutting out the Sooners and recording 14 strikeouts. The next game was against Arizona State and Winfield did not pitch. The Sun Devils won 3-0 pushing the Gophers to the losers bracket where they beat Georgia Southern 6-2. Up next was a legendary semi-finals game against the three-time defending champs, USC.
Winfield got the start again and absolutely dominated the Trojans. Through 8 innings he had one infield single and struck out 15 USC batters. The Gophers entered the 9th inning with a 7-0 lead and just three outs away from the championship game. But USC finally got to Winfield, with a little help.
In the 9th inning, USC opened with a base hit but the next batter grounded into what appeared to be a double play. TV replays indicated the batter was out at first base, but the umpire called him safe and Minnesota coach Dick Siebert was thrown out of the game arguing the call. Two more singles and a key error by the 1st Baseman led to 3 runs and Winfield was relieved and went to left field.
From there the Trojans went on to score 8 runs and completed one of the most dramatic comebacks in College World Series history. According to the BTN Icons story on Winfield he was actually asked to come back in at one point in the 9th but after throwing 140+ pitches he was unable to come back to try and finish off the Trojans. Rich Dauer, who played 10 seasons in the pros and is a member of the Orioles Hall of Fame, was a member of that Trojan's team and he has this to say about Winfield's performance.
"In my whole career, even facing the big boys in the majors, I have never seen anything like that, When Dave let go of the ball, it was three feet in front of your face and it seemed like it was going 110 miles an hour."
For his monumental efforts and in spite of the results, Winfield was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player. His stat line...
He was the starting pitcher twice, 17 1/3 innings, 9 hits, 1 earned run, 29 strikeouts and he happened to bat .467
A true Gopher legend and what a dominating performance that was just shy of greatness.
Some additional pictures from that season, courtesy of the U's Athletic Communication's Department. None are from the CWS specifically but fun nonetheless
After beating Southern Illinois and clinching CWS berth
More Winfield pics