Baseball prepares for weekend series against Michigan

by Anthony Maggio

The last time Minnesota’s baseball team faced Michigan in the regular season, the Gophers shelled the Wolverines for 26 runs in the final game of their four-game series.

Last season’s offensive outburst was the most runs Minnesota scored since April of 1997, when the Gophers topped Southwest State 28-11. But the embarrassing score is not what Michigan head coach Chris Harrison remembers.

“What I remember from that series is the Saturday games which we lost both of them but were both great games,” Harrison said. “I think we maybe had a little wind taken out of our sails after dropping both of those.”

With the Big Ten season underway, the Wolverines are getting their wind back. They have won four of their last five games, but are still only 7-13 on the season.

Nevertheless, Michigan (3-1 Big Ten) brings an experienced offense into the Metrodome this weekend, led by junior third baseman Brock Koman. He leads the team with a .359 batting average.

“Koman is their stud,” pitcher Josh Krogman said. “He ripped us last year. Our main idea is to keep people off base when he gets up and not let him beat us.”

Also swinging a hot bat for the Wolverines is first baseman Mike Sokol. The junior went 6-7 at the plate including a double and triple in last weekend’s series against Iowa. Sokol earned co-Big Ten player of the week for his performance.

Head coach John Anderson is not as concerned with Michigan’s offense, though, as he is with Minnesota’s defense.

The Gophers (10-14, 2-2 Big Ten) should have the edge defensively, especially because the series will be played on turf.

“We don’t have any surface like that we can practice on,” Harrison said. “I think its going to take us a little bit of time to get used to it.”

While the Wolverines are getting used to the carpet, their pitching could keep the Gophers in check.

Junior Rich Hill already has 40 strikeouts on the season and has a 4.03 earned run average. Senior Bobby Korecky has fanned 22
batters, but checks in with a 5.89 ERA. Minnesota will also likely see sophomore Jim Brauer and senior Jeff Trzos.

“In my opinion they have the best starting pitching in the league,” Anderson said.

The Gophers’ bats came alive last Sunday versus the Spartans, and must stay hot against Michigan’s arms for Minnesota to win the series.

“We have to keep swinging the bats and be aggressive,” Minnesota shortstop Scott Welch said. “Only good things can happen when you’re aggressive.”

The Gophers could pull to .500 on the year with a sweep this weekend, which would also put Minnesota near the top of the Big Ten standings. They are currently tied for fifth, but only a game back of a four-way tie for first.

With their young pitching staff, four wins for the Gophers could go a long way.

“A big weekend here for us could put us in the driver’s seat for Big Tens,” Welch said.

Krogman added, “If we play well, we’ve got a couple of series coming up here where we can win a lot of games. If we get it rolling right now I think it will roll straight through. That’s what we need.”

The caliber of Minnesota’s opponents has hampered the Gopher’s ability to build momentum.

The teams Minnesota has faced are a combined 180-93-1 on the year, good for a .657 win percentage.

With the Big Ten up for grabs, the Gophers shouldn’t expect any breaks, and make every series – especially the early ones – important.

“If we want to win the Big Ten we’ve got to at least split on the road and win every series at home,” Krogman said. “This is a big home series for us.”

Anthony Maggio welcomes comments at [email protected]