Gophers host first Big 12 foe since 2006

No. 2 Missouri is bringing a stacked pitching staff to face the Gophers.

by Paul Cordes

Two days ago, the Minnesota baseball team wrapped up a three-game series against a 5-13 foe with a pitching staff sporting a team-earned run average over six.

That won’t be the case tonight.

The Gophers are hosting a two-game midweek series against a red-hot Missouri team with first pitch tonight at 6:35 p.m. followed by a 1:35 p.m. afternoon game on Wednesday. Both games are slated for the Metrodome.

The No. 2-ranked Tigers (18-2 overall, 3-0 Big 12) are a clear-cut favorite to take home a Big 12 crown this season as they sport a combined 2.72 ERA.

Last weekend, Missouri swept No. 14 Baylor in a three-game series, not allowing a run until Sunday’s finale.

Though the Gophers (9-8, 00 Big Ten) won’t be seeing the Tigers’ top hurlers this week, coach John Anderson is certainly aware of the type of arms rolling into the Twin Cities.

“They have dominating pitching statistics,” he said. “Their pitching staff is pretty deep and solid and that’ll be the challenge for us obviously, trying to generate some offense.”

That may be easier said than done.

Minnesota faced a Missouri-caliber opponent to open the season in Ole Miss, a team with one of the top pitching staffs in the country. The Rebels held the Gophers to nine runs during the three-game series.

But 17 games in, Anderson is expecting his team to be more prepared for Mizzou.

“That’s what we’ll find out here, how much progress we’ve made and where we’re at,” he said. “You can’t coach experience; experience comes from playing and this series should give us a chance to look at ourselves and our progress.”

The series itself was a late addition to Minnesota’s schedule this season.

The Gophers got a call from Missouri, who needed to squeeze in a pair of games to complete their schedule, and slated the series giving Minnesota its first Big 12 opponent since a 4-1 loss to Nebraska in March of 2006.

And going up against a Big 12 opponent, especially a team like Missouri, is no easy task. The Tigers are already three games into a tough conference schedule that includes four teams ranked in Baseball America’s top 25.

“It’s just an outstanding conference from top to bottom,” Anderson said. “It’s a conference dominated by schools in the Sunbelt. It’s a good baseball conference; anytime you play a Big 12 opponent, you’re going to play a good team.”

Making things even more difficult is the quick turnaround from the Gophers’ series with South Dakota State over the weekend. Minnesota is in a stretch of 14 games in 18 days, something Anderson and his assistants saw as a good way to get their young team some work.

“I sat down with the pitching coach Todd Oakes. We knew we were going to have a lot of young arms and we needed to get ready for the Big Ten season and we thought this stretch would give us a chance to pitch more people and learn more about our team.

And the Tigers are sure to keep the Gophers’ young pitching staff challenged.

Freshman right-hander Dustin Klabunde will get the start tonight for Minnesota and Anderson said he plans on getting a lot of guys who haven’t seen many innings an opportunity to get on the hill.

“During the four-game series when Big Ten play starts, every arm on the staff comes into play,” Anderson said. “So this will give some of those kids a chance to get ready for the next eight weeks.”

Matyas named Big Ten Pitcher of the Week

Minnesota redshirt freshman Scott Matyas became the second freshman pitcher to earn Big Ten Pitcher of Week honors.

Matyas pitched 2 and 2/3 scoreless innings over the weekend helping his now 0.69 ERA, while fanning six and nailing down a win and a save.

With seven outings this season, Matyas leads the team in appearances and hasn’t given up a run in his last 10 and 2/3 innings.