Power surge: HRs dominate series

by Aaron Blake

The winds were blowing out at Siebert Field on Friday and Saturday, and the first three games of the Minnesota-Penn State baseball series were accordingly decided by home runs.

But on Sunday, it was the Lions’ ability to overcome the wind that earned them a split with the Gophers and left both teams in a deadlock for second place in the Big Ten.

A Matt Lewis home run in the top of the ninth Sunday gave Penn State a 4-3 win in the finale of the four-game series. Minnesota won Friday’s game 7-2 and the first game Saturday 6-3 before the Lions rebounded to take the day’s second game 8-4.

After the teams combined for 11 home runs in the first three games, Lewis’ game-winner off reliever Brian Bull was the only long ball on Sunday.

“I just kind of hung a changeup out there,” Bull said of Lewis’ home run. “I got away with a couple bad pitches earlier in the game, and they would either swing through it or hit it right at somebody. This time, I missed one, and he hit it.”

Bull had shut down the Lions (18-14, 7-5 Big Ten) for 6 1/3 innings after relieving starter Josh Krogman with one out in the third. Lewis’ homer came on a 1-2 pitch with two outs.

But Minnesota’s offense was silent after Matt Fornasiere’s sacrifice fly in the bottom of the second. The Gophers (18-14, 7-5 Big Ten) scattered 10 hits over nine innings and felt they had their opportunities offensively.

“Brian Bull did a tremendous job coming into the game and putting zeroes up on the board,” coach John Anderson said. “We had plenty of chances. We just couldn’t get that one more hit.”

Offense was less of a problem the rest of the weekend for the Gophers and – more specifically – catcher Jake Elder.

Elder hit two home runs Friday and one in each game Saturday. He finished the weekend 6-for-13 with the four home runs and five RBIs. He had no homers in 24 games prior to Friday.

“You just get times when the ball looks really big,” he said.

It must have looked especially big Friday, when Elder opened the scoring with a solo shot to begin the bottom of the second.

The Lions recovered to lead briefly at 2-1 in the top of the third, but the Gophers tied the game in the bottom of the inning and took the lead in the fourth.

Elder’s second home run, a two-run job, contributed to a four-run seventh that put the game out of reach for the Lions.

Sophomore starter Glen Perkins pitched a nine-inning complete game for the victory, allowing two earned runs and striking out five. He is now 11-0 in his career against Big Ten competition.

The Gophers’ momentum carried into Saturday’s action, when back-to-back-to-back home runs in the bottom of the first gave starting pitcher Craig Molldrem all the offense he would need.

With two outs and second baseman Luke MacLean on base in the first, designated hitter Mike Mee got things started with his third homer of the season. First baseman Andy Hunter hit his second of the year next, and Elder completed the trifecta with his third of the weekend.

Minnesota manufactured two runs in the second, and Molldrem steadied himself after the third inning to pitch the seven-inning complete game.

In the second game of the doubleheader, the Lions were the ones jumping out to the early lead.

The Gophers trailed 6-0 early but came within 6-4 thanks to Elder’s fourth home run of the weekend in the bottom of the fifth and Hunter’s three-run shot in the sixth.

The Lions added some insurance in the top of the seventh thanks to third baseman Scott Gummo’s two-run homer, and they went on to win 8-4. Minnesota starter Matt Loberg took the loss, allowing five runs – three earned – in 2 1/3 innings.

Anderson said the prevalence of home runs didn’t surprise him, and the direction of the wind on Sunday favored the less-offensively talented Lions.

“This park is a wood bat ballpark,” Anderson said Sunday. “We’re going to hit a lot more home runs here, and the opposition is going to hit a lot more home runs here – especially when the wind blew out like it did the first couple days. Today, it blew in.”