Offense fails U in NCAA tourney

It took four months and 62 games to catch up with them, and when it finally did, the timing couldn’t have been any worse.
After losing the heart of their offensive production to graduation and the pros following the 1999 season, the Gophers baseball team searched for new ways to score throughout the 2000 season.
They had some success and they had some failures over the long season. And this weekend their search ended in disappointment.
Minnesota’s hitters were shut down at Siebert Field on Sunday. The Gophers could only manage a pair of runs in two losses that eliminated them from the NCAA tournament.
“One thing we thought was going to be a challenge for us from the beginning of the year was our ability to replace the offense in the middle of the lineup,” Minnesota coach John Anderson said. “That’s what hurt us the most here down the stretch — our ability to have any consistency of scoring runs.”
After rain washed out Saturday’s games at Siebert, Minnesota’s showdown with top-seeded, and 10th-ranked, Nebraska was pushed back to Sunday.
But when — and where — they played didn’t much matter. The Huskers’ starter, Trevor Bullock, and the Nebraska fans made sure of that.
Playing in front of a large contingent of Huskers fans, who outnumbered and out-cheered their Gopher counterparts, the senior was dominating.
With chants of “Go Big Red” making Siebert Field sound like a Nebraska football game, Bullock held Minnesota to just three hits in the complete-game performance.
His only bad pitch, which came in the sixth inning, was deposited beyond the outfield fence by Gophers right fielder Jason Kennedy.
Despite knocking a solo shot, Kennedy was quick to give Bullock credit for silencing Minnesota’s bats.
“He’s one of the top pitchers we’ve faced all season,” Kennedy said.
While Bullock was on for Nebraska, Gophers starter Ben Birk didn’t have his best stuff. The junior, who has battled arm injuries all season, gave up 10 hits and four runs in 5 1/3.
Birk called the Huskers “very aggressive” at the plate. Anderson called them smart.
“Ben threw some competitive sinkers, and they didn’t chase,” Anderson said. “They were disciplined hitters and they didn’t swing at pitches out of the strike zone.”
The result was a 4-1 Gophers loss that put them up against Wichita State in Sunday night’s consolation round.
Minnesota defeated the Shockers 10-7 in the opening round on Friday, but Sunday was a different day, with a different Wichita State starter.
Shockers sophomore Ben Keiter scattered seven hits over 7 2/3, allowing just one Minnesota run in Wichita State’s 5-1 victory.
The strong performance on the mound by Keiter gave Wichita State the ability to grab an early lead and hold onto for nine innings.
“I think the difference in the game was Ben Keiter,” Shockers coach Gene Stephenson said. “I thought we had to get six innings of great pitching to win. We got that and more.”
Meanwhile, the Gophers didn’t get it from the plate.
Minnesota’s Scott Howard, who went 3 for 4 in the game, seemed to be the only Gopher that could figure out Keiter. But that didn’t make up for the frustrating outcome on their home field.
“It’s disappointing because we couldn’t put anything together on offense,” Howard said. “It was a tough loss at home.”
Like Birk in the Nebraska game, Minnesota’s starter against Wichita State, Chadd Clarey, couldn’t gain a rhythm on the hill.
The senior lasted just 3 2/3, giving up three runs on eight hits, while walking four.
“I had a hard time finding the strike zone,” Clarey said. “I was trying my best, but it wasn’t good enough.”
The 2000 Big Ten regular season champions now turn their attention on next season. But not before they reflect on a season that saw Minnesota host both the conference tournament and an NCAA regional.
Neither would have come without some success on the field — and at the plate.
“I’m proud of our players, they gave a great effort,” Anderson said. “We have nothing to hang our heads about. In many ways we overachieved this season.”

Huskers heading out West
After defeating Wichita State 8-1 Sunday, Nebraska earned a berth in the super regional.
The Huskers will head to Palo Alto, Calif., to take on Stanford next weekend.
Nebraska played an impressive regional, winning all three games. Huskers pitching allowed just one run in each game.
Second baseman Will Bolt said the large contingent of Huskers fans made him feel like he was home in Lincoln and helped Nebraska sweep through the regional.
“It was pretty much like playing at home,” Bolt said. “It’s great having that kind of support.”

John R. Carter covers baseball and welcomes comments at [email protected]