Baseball sweeps Northern Illinois

by Tim Klobuchar

Northern Illinois baseball coach Joe “Spanky” McFarland proved this weekend that the phrase “It’s good to be king,” or more precisely, “The King,” isn’t always true.
McFarland is a self-professed “Elvis freak” who dressed up in full Elvis garb (minus the cape) last year to sing the “Star Spangled Banner” at a Huskies home game to pay off a bet he lost to his team. The love-me-tender moment is also immortalized in this year’s Northern Illinois media guide with a Spanky-as-Elvis photo.
“I still get calls to do bachelor parties and minor league games,” McFarland said. “I must’ve been pretty good. I probably make a better Elvis than I do coach.”
McFarland’s memorable rendition of the anthem was part of a season in which the Huskies won the Midwestern Collegiate Conference and made the NCAA tournament.
But Northern Illinois had played just one game this year coming into this weekend’s series with the Gophers, and the inexperience showed, as Minnesota battered Huskies pitching for 31 runs in a three-game sweep at the Metrodome.
The Gophers improved to 6-8 on the year, and head into a two-week hiatus with a four-game winning streak.
“I just think we needed to prove to ourselves we could win some games,” Gophers sophomore Robb Quinlan said. “It makes it easier heading into the break.”
The feeling would have been much different had Minnesota dropped Sunday’s ugly marathon — a 14-10 win that featured 32 hits, 10 pitchers and eight errors between the two teams.
The Gophers overcame five errors in the first four innings to take an 11-6 lead, which shrunk to 11-10 before a three-run eighth inning cemented the victory.
“The ugly ones you lose are the toughest,” Gophers coach John Anderson said. “If we’d have lost one like that, we’d end up carrying it with you for two weeks until we play again. With our break, we could’ve created self-doubt, and everyone would be ornery by the time we play.”
Of course, the lack of aesthetic beauty had a positive flip side for Minnesota — some gaudy offensive numbers. Senior outfielder Troy Stein had the biggest day, going five-for-five with a home run, triple and three singles.
Quinlan had four hits, jumping his average to .224 after it had been below .100 for much of the year. As recently as Wednesday, he was hitting .091. Senior third baseman Bob Keeney also had four hits this weekend.
The game was in contrast to Saturday’s relatively swift two hour, 40-minute contest, a 7-4 Minnesota win. Senior left-hander Mike Diebolt, the Gophers’ most effective starter thus far, scattered nine hits and gave up two runs in eight innings for his first win of the year. Ted Zrust picked up the save.
Sophomore shortstop Matt Brosseau had three hits and an RBI for Minnesota. Brosseau has only been in the lineup recently because of Quinlan’s move from shortstop to left field. He had struggled both at the plate and in the field. Despite one throwing error on Sunday, Brosseau played solid defense and raised his average to near .300 by the end of the weekend.
He said he found some help from a familiar and reliable source — his father Frank, who played outfield on the Gophers’ last national championship team in 1964 and pitched for the Pittsburgh Pirates organization.
“I had a few flaws in my swing,” Brosseau said. “I talked to my dad and he showed me some things that I worked on in batting practice. He knows his stuff.”
The series opener on Friday provided some anxious moments for the Gophers. They fell behind 5-0 early, even with senior ace Justin Pederson on the mound. Tony Felling relieved Pederson in the fourth and went the rest of the way, allowing just one run in the 10-6 victory.
After a slow start, Minnesota’s offense started to take the form it would keep the rest of the weekend. Senior catcher Bryan Guse, who went four-for-five, tied the game in the sixth with an RBI double. The Gophers took the lead in the seventh when Phil McDermott scored on a wild pitch, and added insurance in the eighth on a two-run homer by Guse, his second of the year.
“I challenged the team in the dugout in the fourth inning after we made it 5-3,” Guse said. “I knew we could play better than that. We can’t give extra outs to a team that doesn’t, I think, belong on the same field as us. That stuff’s got to stop.”
The Gophers might have been less than happy with their performance over the weekend, but players and coaches said they were happy they are finding ways to win after a 2-8 start.
McFarland, meanwhile, probably knew it wasn’t his team’s weekend when it was down to its last out on Friday. At that point, a song called “Now or Never” by a certain rock ‘n’ roll legend blared over the Dome’s public address system.

N.Ill. 204 022 000 — 10 15 3
Gophers 523 100 030 — 14 17 5
Strom, Dykstra (3), Erschen (3), Epperson (8), Miller (8) and Roppa, Weingart; Freeman, Wagner (5), Zrust (6), Williams (8), Pederson (9) and Guse. W — Wagner, 1-0. L — Strom, 0-1. HRs — Stein (1). T — 3:37. A — 427.

Gophers hitting statistics (3 games)

Stein 14 5 8 4
Quinlan 16 6 8 3
Guse 12 3 6 4
Brosseau 10 3 4 2
Keeney 14 1 4 2
Welter 12 2 4 2
Griffin 7 3 2 2
Selander 5 0 2 2
McDermott 6 2 2 1
Scanlon 1 0 1 0
Beers 1 1 1 0
Groebner 5 3 1 1
Negen 4 2 1 0
Arlt 3 0 1 2
Birk 1 0 0 0
Egan 1 0 0 0
Totals 112 31 45 25