Loud Friday, bats quieted in 2 losses

The Gophers started the weekend right with a 7-4 win, but Northwestern took the series with back-to-back wins.

Junior AJ Pettersen slides into 2nd base Saturday at Target Field.

Image by Joe Michaud-Scorza

Junior AJ Pettersen slides into 2nd base Saturday at Target Field.

by Derek Wetmore

Someone apparently forgot to tell Mother Nature and MinnesotaâÄôs offense that itâÄôs supposed to be springtime. Neither temperatures nor the GophersâÄô bats have warmed up to where they should be at this time of year.

Minnesota (11-15 overall, 3-6 Big Ten) struggled to find consistency offensively on the weekend and dropped two-of-three to Northwestern.

âÄúWeâÄôre struggling a little bit,âÄù head coach John Anderson said. âÄúWeâÄôve been too inconsistent on offense. There are too many fundamental breakdowns in some of our swings that we have to correct.

âÄúWeâÄôre putting so much pressure on our pitching staff because we canâÄôt score runs. YouâÄôve got to pitch perfectly, and thatâÄôs a hard way to live.âÄù

While the Gophers did get three quality pitching performances out of weekend starters TJ Oakes, Phil Isaksson and Austin Lubinsky, it was not enough to overcome an offense that struggled to string hits together and deliver in important situations.

On Friday, Minnesota had a three-run rally in the sixth inning to take a 4-3 lead, one they would never relinquish. Nick OâÄôShea, who has played catcher of late to infuse more offense into the lineup, then drove in three runs with a seventh inning double to right-center to bust the game open for the Gophers.  

âÄúWe were in a situation where we were looking to extend the lead a little bit. I was looking for a good pitch to hit. Bases were loaded, so I knew they had to pitch to me,âÄù OâÄôShea said. âÄúLuckily it found a gap.âÄù

After facing some outstanding defense in last weekendâÄôs series, Anderson said he was glad to see his team finally get a hit in a big situation.

âÄúLast weekend at Michigan State [OâÄôSheaâÄôs drive] probably would have gotten caught,âÄù Anderson joked. âÄúWe finally got one to drop in for us.âÄù

Scott Matyas, who earned the save in the 7-4 victory, gave up his first run in regular season play in nearly a year. It was his first run allowed this season.

Though the run surrendered didnâÄôt affect the final outcome Friday, the Wildcats got to him in a much bigger way Saturday.

Minnesota scored only one run Saturday âÄî in the first inning âÄî en route to a 4-1 defeat. Isaksson (1-4) was the hard-luck loser after pitching 7 1/3 solid innings.

Isaksson left in the eighth inning of a 1-1 game with a runner on second, one out, and the heart of the WildcatsâÄô offense coming to the plate. He gave way to closer Matyas, who had been close to perfect in the last calendar year.

But Matyas got rocked and allowed the inherited runner to score, as well as two of his own by giving up two singles and a double before calming down and recording the final two outs of the inning.

âÄúI think the biggest thing is just letting down your teammates. They played a great game,âÄù Matyas said.

âÄúThe great closers respond and donâÄôt let it affect them,âÄù he added. âÄúYou just have to be ready for the next time you need to go out there.âÄù

Matyas said he wasnâÄôt aware of how long his scoreless streak had gone, but said if the Wildcats scored one off him last year and then put a big day together, they must âÄúhave his number.âÄù

âÄúStatistics tell you that eventually heâÄôs going to give up a couple runs,âÄù Anderson said. âÄúScottâÄôs not going to be perfect.âÄù

Tom Windle surrendered an eighth inning run Sunday to put Northwestern ahead 4-3 âÄî the eventual final âÄî and was tagged with the loss.

OâÄôShea doubled to lead off the bottom of the eighth but was snuffed out when he tried to advance to third on a ground ball to the shortstop.

Justin Gominsky, who was a late scratch because of sore ankles, singled in his pinch-hit at-bat with two outs in the ninth. The ball trickled by the first baseman, and the second baseman stopped it in shallow right field as Gominsky tumbled into first base.

Gominsky was injured on a similar play Saturday in the fifth inning when he tripped on the first base bag and sprained his ankle. He stayed in the game Saturday but had too much swelling to start Sunday, Anderson said. Especially with the size of Target FieldâÄôs outfield, Anderson said Gominsky would have been a defensive and base running liability.

Anderson said it is âÄúnot a serious ankle sprainâÄù but theyâÄôll keep an eye on it. Gominsky missed most of last season with a knee injury.

Anderson said after SundayâÄôs game that he is considering several changes to the starting lineup to jumpstart the offense.

âÄúWeâÄôve got to find some guys that can give us some consistent at-bats,âÄù Anderson said. âÄúWe canâÄôt keep going to the same guys if I donâÄôt see progress being made and I havenâÄôt seen a lot.âÄù