Gophers struggle on the mound

Minnesota had a tough time finding the plate and even when it did, the Illini’s bats did the rest.

After dropping a pair of games Saturday, it looked like the Gophers baseball team might salvage a split Sunday.

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south dakota State
what: Baseball
when: 6:30 p.m., Wednesday
where: Sioux Falls, S.D.

Playing another doubleheader Sunday after Friday afternoon’s game was rained out, the Gophers won Sunday’s first game in the final inning, 4-3.

In the second game, the Gophers trailed 4-1 going into the eighth, but scored five runs in the inning to take a 6-4 lead. Needing just three outs to win the game, the Gophers crumbled in the ninth, losing the game 9-7 and losing three out of four to Illinois on the weekend.

Scott Matyas began the inning by walking a batter and giving up a single before being replaced by Cullen Sexton. Sexton recorded an out and walked two batters to load the bases, when Dominic Altobelli hit a soft grounder to second base that looked like an easy double play.

Instead, Tom Steidl short-hopped the relay throw and it ended up in the dugout, allowing two runs to score and give the Illini a 5-4 lead.

“Tommy’s not a first baseman by trade,” coach John Anderson said. “There’s a saying in this game: the ball usually finds the guy you don’t want it to in the end when you need the last out, and it found him.”

But the inning wasn’t finished. Luke Rasmussen was brought on to pitch and induced another easy grounder that rolled right through shortstop Derek McCallum’s legs. The next batter up, Nick Stockwell, drove in another unearned run with a single.

In all, Illinois scored five runs in the ninth on just two hits, with three Minnesota errors.

“It’s really frustrating,” Steidl said. “All it would’ve taken was one more play and we would’ve swept today’s doubleheader. I didn’t make the play to end the game, and it kind of snowballed from there.”

The Gophers scored another run in the bottom of the ninth, and had the bases loaded with one out, but catcher Jeff DeSmidt grounded into a game-ending double play.

Still, according to Anderson, the fact that the team made any kind of comeback was encouraging.

“Yesterday I told the guys that I didn’t think they played with much courage or much compassion, and that’s been a staple of this program” he said. “I guess they heard the message.”

What Anderson meant by “yesterday” was a pair of lopsided losses by scores of 15-2 and 7-3.

Tom Buske started the first game and Kyle Carr started the second, and neither lasted more than four innings.

“It’s hard to overcome poor starting pitching, and I thought that was the story of the day today,” head coach John Anderson said.

The bullpen didn’t fare much better, giving up seven earned runs. Minnesota pitchers walked a total of 18 batters and hit four more on the day – including the unfortunate case of Illinois’ Dominic Altobelli, who was hit by three pitches in a single game.

“We let 22 extra guys come to the plate today because of walks and hit batters, and that’s hard to overcome,” Anderson said. “I don’t care who you’re playing.”

The pitching staff allowed just five walks Sunday, and got quality starts from both starters – Dustin Brabender and Seth Rosin.

Long days

Friday’s rainout marked the second-straight week the Gophers have had to alter their weekend schedule. Last weekend at Northwestern, both Friday and Saturday were rained out, so they played doubleheaders Sunday and Monday.

“It’s awful tough to play a nine and a seven-inning game two days in a row, but we have to do it,” junior third baseman Nate Hanson said. “That’s Big Ten baseball; you never know what you’re going to get with the weather up here.”

Several players, including catcher Jeff DeSmidt, played all of the tightly packed injuries, and Anderson said that Jeremy Chlan’s injured hip may also have to do with the workload, especially in cold weather.

“Don’t take this as an excuse, because it’s not, it’s reality, but we’ve been through two very difficult weekends,” Anderson said. “I think we’re a little weary, plus things haven’t been going our way, and it starts to wear on you.”