Gophers blindly going into key series

by Sarah Mitchell

The entire Minnesota baseball team has a blind date this weekend.
But rather than pre-date primping with cologne and hair gel, the players must decide whether to pull their pant legs up to their knees or go with a more conservative pulled-down look. And which provides better protection: sunglasses or eye black.
The destination, however, is not a romantic restaurant; rather it’s Siebert Field. The Gophers are set to take on, not out, Indiana in a four-game series this weekend.
The last time the Gophers faced Indiana was also the last time Minnesota made a Big Ten tournament appearance. The year was 1995 and the series resulted in a split.
No one associated with the team seems to know anything about the Hoosiers. And if they do, they aren’t letting on.
“I don’t know anything about them,” Adam Horton said.
“I don’t either,” Jeremy Beaulieu added.
“I haven’t even seen any of their players,” Mark Groebner said. “I don’t even remember what they look like.”
“We don’t know anything about them,” head coach John Anderson said.
If the Gophers (28-11, 9-7 in the Big Ten) need to know one thing about Indiana (25-19, 10-6), it’s that the Hoosiers are one game ahead of them in Big Ten standings, making this weekend’s four-game series critical.
With only 12 games left in conference play, Minnesota needs to win the series in order to improve its chances of returning to the Big Ten tournament. The Gophers are tied for fourth place in the conference with Iowa, and the top four teams make the tournament.
Minnesota’s pitching rotation has probably changed more this season than it did during the two seasons the team failed to qualify for the tournament.
Dan McGrath will take the mound for the Gophers on Friday night. McGrath was a reliever until number one starter Ben Birk injured his shoulder.
Since Birk’s injury, McGrath has primarily started in the series finale. But McGrath, now 7-1 on the season, has thrown so well as a starter he is now starting game one.
The sophomore, who was bumped up to start the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader against Illinois last weekend, is pencilled in to start game one of the series because Anderson said the team needed someone who could throw nine innings. McGrath, who pitched complete games the past three weekends plus three innings of relief last weekend, has shown the ability to log heavy innings.
“We think he has been pitching the best so far,” Anderson said.
Birk, who recorded a victory on Saturday against Illinois, is scheduled to start game one on Saturday, his first start since his shoulder injury.
The sophomore relieved Brad Pautz during the third inning of game one and held the Illini to three hits and no runs through four innings. If Saturday’s performance was any indication of Birk’s recovery, it would give the Gophers’ pitching staff a boost.
Saturday’s game two starter is as sketchy as the entire Indiana team. But the task should be given to either Brad Pautz and Kelly Werner, seeing as how they are the only full-time starters left. Both have been struggling since the team’s sweep of Iowa in early April.
Jason Dobis, who was pitching on Fridays in Birk’s absence, will return to his original fourth spot and take the mound on Sunday.
By Sunday’s game, the Gophers would like to have gained ground on the teams ahead of them. In addition to third-place Indiana, Illinois and Ohio State are battling for first place ownership, as both teams have posted an 11-5 record.
“I think we’ve just got to keep playing the way we play,” Gophers pitcher Jason Shupe said. “Play good defense, hit the ball and pitch well, and we’ll win games.”