Pitching-rich Gophers recover

by Sarah Mitchell

Minnesota baseball faithfuls weren’t suffering from heat stroke when they gave a standing ovation to Gophers pitcher Brad Pautz after he surrendered a hit to Illinois’s Chris Basak in game one on Saturday.
The Gophers pitching ace deserved the Siebert Field crowd’s seventh-inning reaction. Pautz fell three outs shy of a no-hitter, and up until that point only two Illini hitters had reached base on an error and a walk.
“That was my best performance this season by far. I just haven’t thrown strikes all year and on Saturday I did,” Pautz said. “When I did put the ball over the plate and they swung, they put it right at somebody. All in all I couldn’t ask for a better day.”
The Illini did capitalize on another Pautz mistake in the same inning. Reigning Big Ten player of the year D.J. Svihlik broke up the no-no with a two-run homer over the right field fence to tie the score at two.
Thanks to Svihlik’s shot, the game needed extra innings to decide a victor. After the shaky seventh inning, Pautz (7-2) retired the side in the eighth, including two strike outs, before the Gophers offense scored in the bottom of the eighth to seal the win.
Pautz and the rest of the Gophers pitching staff set the tone for the rest of the weekend and paved the way for a series win. After losing 7-6 on Friday, Minnesota received strong performances from starters and relievers alike to win the next three games.
“Pitching is baseball,” Illinois assistant coach Dan Hartleb said. “Minnesota’s entire staff did a good job this weekend.”
On Sunday, junior Chadd Clarey (5-1) was the recipient of the crowd’s applause when the junior college transfer threw his first complete game of the season.
After a tough first inning, it seemed inconceivable that Clarey would allow just one run and seven hits over the next eight innings. Illinois hitters greeted Clarey in the top of the first inning, scoring two runs.
“We consider a big inning three or more runs. I don’t know how he worked his way out of a big inning,” Gophers first year pitching coach Todd Oakes said. “It’s all I can ask for. He got through the first inning. He really settled down.”
While Pautz and Clarey pitched complete games, Gophers relievers did the job when called upon, Vince Gangl in particular. The junior made his only appearance of the weekend in the fifth inning of game two on Saturday.
Taking over for starter Dan McGrath, Gangl held the Illini scoreless while surrendering just one hit — a single to Svihlik in the seventh inning — in Minnesota’s 5-2 win. The right-hander faced 10 hitters during his three-inning stint, striking out three.
“Vinnie’s been key,” Oakes said. “It’s been a confidence thing. I told him when I came here, without ever having seen him pitch in a game, that he was going to be one of our main guys. I told him we needed him.”
While Pautz, Clarey and Gangl all deserve credit, it’s important not to overlook the other half of the battery. Gophers catcher Jeremy Negen was given more responsibility this season and has done well in his role of pitch caller.
“He’s all I could ask for,” Oakes said. “He’s got a great demeanor behind the plate.”
The ability to deny Illini hitters at the plate this weekend was a good sign for Oakes and the future of the team. With postseason play approaching, the Gophers pitching staff could determine Minnesota’s success.
“I’m happy with where we’re at,” Oakes said. “There’s still a lot of potential here.”