Midweek games against teams like South Dakota State are a conundrum for Gophers baseball coach John Anderson.
Do you play to win, or try to get young players experience?
Anderson went with the experience route Wednesday night as the Gophers lost 6-4 to the Jackrabbits, their fourth straight midweek loss.
True freshman Dustin Klabunde, who came into the game with a 10.12 ERA, started the game and was followed by Tyler Oakes, who came in with a 17.63 ERA. It’s unlikely that either player would pitch in a close Big Ten game.
“We’re not trying to lose, we’re trying to win. But at the same time, we have to develop our kids,” Anderson said.
The young pitchers actually put together a nice game, giving up just four earned runs and only walking one batter.
Oakes was the losing pitcher, giving up three earned runs in 3.2 innings. He also gave up two unearned runs, which came off a pair of errors from shortstop Derek McCallum.
“I was impressed with the pitching staff for the most part tonight,” said catcher Jeff DeSmidt, who hit a two-run homerun in the third to give the Gophers their only lead. “We gave them a chance to pitch and they battled well.”
It was the seventh straight loss for the Gophers, and six of those have been by two runs or less.
It was also the fourth straight midweek game they have lost, losing an extra inning game to the Jackrabbits last week and losing a pair of games to Northern Iowa.
“Losing is contagious just like winning is contagious,” DeSmidt said. “Right now we can’t seem to overcome anything, and the snowball started and we can’t seem to stop it. It’s going to take a big effort by somebody to finally overcome it and stop the downhill slide.”
The Gophers led 4-2 after four innings, but the Jackrabbits scored three runs in the fifth off Oakes, highlighted by a two-run single from Korby Mintken.
After losing the lead, the Gophers’ offense went 1-2-3 in four of their final five innings.
“That’s been a theme for our offense lately,” said Mike Kvasnicka, who went 2-for-4. “We don’t know what’s going on.”
The loss dropped the Gophers to 16-27 with just 13 games left, making it very likely they will finish below .500 for the first time in 46 years. According to Anderson, that is all the more reason to start giving younger players experience.
“We’re not going to define ourselves by the scoreboard or our win-loss record, that’s not what this is all about right now,” he said. “We’re trying to develop this team, bring the younger kids along and we’re going to keep doing it until the season is over.
“If it’s not going to make a difference this year, it’ll make a difference next year.”
First baseman Tom Steidl left the game in the second inning with a hand injury after a South Dakota State base runner inadvertently stepped on his wrist.
He was replaced by Joe Maciej, and Anderson said the hand is bruised, not broken. A decision has not yet been made as to whether he’ll be available this weekend against Iowa.