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Minnesota Baseball: Gophers struggling to start the season but open up Big Ten play 2-1

Was this team going to be better? We don’t really know.

In our Gopher baseball season preview, we wondered if this was the year that they rebound from a couple of truly ugly seasons. Through the non-conference season, it hasn’t really appeared as though things were turning around for this proud and successful program.

The non-conference schedule began with games against ranked opponents and the Gophers were initially competitive, but ultimately unable to earn wins.

  • #14 Santa Barbara-9, Minnesota-7
  • #18 Oregon St-8, Minnesota-7

Close, but not enough. And they continued to lose, starting the season 0-11 before finally getting a win over Northern Illinois (currently 5-21 and last place in the MAC). The team started 5-19 as they entered their first Big Ten weekend series.

The team traveled to Ohio State to face the 12-11 (0-3) Buckeyes.

The first Big Ten series is a great time to check in on the team to give us a good idea of what the weekend pitching rotation and the regular lineup should be fairly set by this point.

The great news here is that the Gophers went on the road and took 2 of 3 from the struggling Buckeyes.

Game 1 - Friday
Starting Pitcher - Tucker Novotny

Nototny pitched 6 strong innings, giving up 2 earned runs but striking out 10 Buckey batters. Ohio State led 2-0 going into the 9th but a 3-run top of the 9th for the Gophers gave them the comeback win.

The 9th began with a Brady Counsell leadoff home run. Which was immediately followed by a Weber Neels solo shot to tie the game. A pitching change was made and the new Buckeye pitcher quickly struck out Ike Mezzenga and Riley Swenson.

Boston Merilla was then beaned, taking first base. Jake Perry drilled a double that scored Merilla for the go-ahead run. Very exciting.

Seth Clausen came in for the save. He may have walked a couple batters, but was ultimately able to lock down the save and first conference win of the season.

Game 2 - Saturday
Starting Pitcher - George Klassen

Ohio State got to Klassen for 4 runs through 4 innings and held on to win 6-2.

Game 3 - Sunday
Starting Pitcher - Richie Holetz

Holetz threw 6 innings, striking out 8, giving up 1 run in the 1st and another in the 5th. Connor Wietgrefe relieved him for 2 innings, striking out 3 and not giving up a run.

The Gopher lineup put up 5 runs in the 2nd plus one more in the 4th as they cruised to another Big Ten win.

The Weekend

Bateman had a nice weekend at the plate going 6/11 with 3 walks to boost his on-base percentage as the team’s leadoff hitter. Jake Perry was 5/11 with 3 RBIs.

The Season

Statistically, this Gopher team appears to be “better.” Pitching currently is 5th in the Big Ten in ERA and the team’s fielding percentage is 2nd. The problem is hitting where the team is last in batting average and runs scored. Three Big Ten teams have double the runs scored as Minnesota!

Reminder that of the 10 position players who are seeing the most starts, 7 of them are freshmen or sophomores. So struggling at the plate may not be out of the ordinary.

The three primary pitchers are all doing well, if you don’t look closely at their W/L record. But again, if you look at those three starters plus the four pitchers with the next most innings pitched, 5 of those 7 are also sophomores.

Up next are two weekday games against St. Thomas and South Dakota State on Tuesday and Wednesday respectively. Then they host Purdue (12-14, 3-3) this weekend at Siebert Field.