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Gopher Baseball heads to Illinois trying to hold on to first place

Baseball_hat_mediumYour first place Gopher baseball team is looking to stay at the top of the Big Ten through the first half of the Big Ten schedule.  In what has been a remarkable turnaround the Gophers have climbed to a #23 national ranking, have a 4-2 record against other ranked teams and after this weekend will have already faced the other three Big Ten teams who round out the top four.

If you were not aware, the 2008 baseball season was the worst in decades for this usually successful baseball program (think Michigan football 2008).  Many of the pre-season prognostications assumed the Gophers would be better and would finish top half of the Big Ten.  But a year removed from the disastrous 2008 spring they Gophers are ranked and in the driver's seat to win their 22nd Big Ten title, first since 2004  (NOTE: there are still 15 Big Ten games remaining so they have a ways to go yet).

But all of the dreams of Big Ten titles and NCAA Tournament births and trips to Omaha all hinge on winning actual games.  So the Gophers head on the road to take on Illinois who currently sits at third in the Big Ten standings (6-3).  This will be the biggest weekend series of the year until a trip to Ann Arbor looms in early May.

Both of these teams seem to be winning with a different style than the rest of the Big Ten.  Ohio State, Indiana and Michigan are three other conference teams that we should fear and they win with scoring runs.  All three are the only teams with 30 or more team home runs and OSU/Ind are top two in batting average.  The Gophers and Illini can score runs as well but mostly they are getting it done with pitching and defense.  In both categories the Gophers lead the Big Ten while Illinois is second. 

Interesting Story lines and notes...Austin_lubinski_medium
  • The Friday game pits Gopher ace Chauncy Handran, who has won six consecutive decisions against Minnesota native Phil Haig.  Haig played his high school baseball at Sibley and as a sophomore he has worked his way into the Friday starter role for the Illini.  Haig faced the Gophers last season giving up three earned runs in 5.0 innings pitched.  The Illini lost the game 4-3 and it was a no-decision for Haig.
  • Gopher 2B-Derek McCallum is kind of hot right now.  In two mid-week games McCallum went 6-8 with 12 RBI and 3 HR.  He is currently riding a 17 game hit streak and 19 game on-base streak.  
  • The Gopher pitching staff ranks 42nd nationally in team ERA (4.33) and the team ranks 10th nationally in fielding percentage.
  • After taking two of three from conference favorite, Michigan, last weekend the Illini dropped both of their mid-week games to Eastern Illinois and Southern Illinois.
  • Against non-conference opponents with 20 or more wins this year the Gophers are 8-1.
  • Senior, Matt Nohelty is currently second all-time in stolen bases with 78.  He trails Charlie Nelson who holds the record with 93.  Nohelty is 12/16 in SB attempts this year through 32 games so grabbing 15 more in the remaining 19 games (plus playoffs) is possible but he'll have to have a few big weekends to get into the 90s.
  • The Gopher starting lineup consists of three redshirt freshmen (O'Shea, Pettersen, Geason) and one true freshman (Gominsky).  The pitching staff is also rather young with true freshmen Austin Lubinski seeing plenty of early action to go along with a host of sophomores on the mound (Rosin, Rasmussen, Fern, Isaksson, Matyas and Sexton).
  • Saturday and Sunday games can be heard on KLBB 1220 AM.
PROBABLE STARTERS (Minnesota vs. Illinois)

Friday - RHP Chauncy Handran (6-1, 2.73 ERA)  VS.  Phil Haig (3-2, 3.92 ERA)
Saturday - Tom Buske (5-2, 2.15 ERA)  VS.  Ben Reeser (3-0, 2.61 ERA)
Sunday - Seth Rosin (2-1, 4.62 ERA)   VS.  Bryan Roberts (3-0, 5.89 ERA)




DH Matt Nohelty .348, 34 runs, 12 SB
CF Joe Banadonna .232, 14 SB
SS AJ Pettersen .395, 35 runs
LF Casey McMurray .296
2B Derek McCallum .386, 7 HR, 44 RBI
SS Brandon Wikoff .389, 32 runs
RF Michael Kvasnicka .374, 3 HR, 32 RBI
3B Dominick Altobelli .300, 29 RBI
C Kyle Knudson .342, 28 RBI
CF Aaron Johnson .349, 4 HR, 30 RBI
1B Nick O'Shea .252, 21 RBI
1B Matt Dittman .299
CF Eric Decker .309, 9 SB
RF Nick Stockwell .212
LF Justin Gominsky .322
DH Willie Aargo .330, 5 HR
3B Kyle Geason .198
2B Josh Parr .356, 10 SB