Gophers lose 2 after pitching woes

Minnesota allowed 24 runs in a series against Creighton over the weekend.

Minnesota shortstop Michael Handel prepares to swing Friday, April 5, 2013, against Ohio State at Siebert Field.

Image by Daily File Photo, Amanda Snyder

Minnesota shortstop Michael Handel prepares to swing Friday, April 5, 2013, against Ohio State at Siebert Field.

by Betsy Helfand

Minnesota, plagued by pitching struggles, dropped two of three games to Creighton over the weekend in Fort Myers, Fla.

“We have to pitch, and we have to play defense,” head coach John Anderson said. “We didn’t do those two things very well this weekend.”

The Gophers gave up 24 runs and committed four errors in three games.

Minnesota came back from a four-run deficit in Friday’s 10-5 win. It was the team’s only win of the series.

“It’s a good feeling to know that our team’s … not going to give up and is still going to keep pushing,” junior shortstop Michael Handel said.

Handel went 3-for-4 with a run and an RBI in that game.

But the Gophers struggled at the plate later in the weekend and lost 11-4 on Saturday and 8-0 on Sunday.

“We couldn’t come up with a big hit,” Anderson said.

The Gophers might not have, but Creighton did.

“Creighton’s a good hitting team,” Handel said. “They put the ball in play and … we didn’t come up with the big plays that we needed to.”

Anderson said his pitchers threw a low percentage of first-pitch strikes and didn’t have great command this weekend.

“Everybody just kind of had a tough time getting the ball to the plate, and when they did, [Creighton] kind of teed up on it,” freshman catcher Austin Athmann said.

Gophers senior starter Alec Crawford gave up five runs, four earned, on Friday.

Saturday starter Jordan Jess and reliever Lance Thonvold each gave up four runs.

While Sunday starter Ben Meyer fared a little better, giving up just three runs in five innings, reliever Matt Fiedler gave up five runs in two-thirds of an inning.

“We’re going to have to throw more strikes and pitch a little more competitively than we did,” Anderson said.

Athmann was a bright spot for the Gophers this weekend. He has seen time behind the plate and is currently hitting .467.

Athmann said the college game is different but said catcher Matt Halloran has helped him out. Halloran has served as a designated hitter this season because of an injury.

“I’m always talking to Matt about what I could be doing different,” Athmann said. “He’s really helping me through this.”

Anderson said he’s been impressed with the way the freshman has handled himself at the catcher position.

“He’s been able to receive the ball, block the ball, call a good game [and] develop the pitchers’ trust … back there,” Anderson said. “We threw him into the fire … [and he’s] exceeded my expectations by a mile so far.”

This weekend was Minnesota’s second straight on the road. The Gophers played in 80-degree weather with high humidity, and Athmann said the heat “kind of got to everybody.”

Still, Minnesota didn’t use that as an excuse for poor play.

“It did drain everybody, but it drained Creighton, too,” Handel said. “Both teams are probably not used to this type of heat, and both teams are maybe a little tired, but for two or three hours a day, we should be able to give it our all.”

Minnesota will hit the road again next weekend. It’ll take on Louisiana Tech in Ruston, La.

“[We’ll] try to get back on the winning way, but more importantly, get back to playing Minnesota baseball,” Anderson said. “And that is throwing the ball over the plate and making plays on defense and having quality at-bats up and down the lineup.”