Woodrow’s record tops solid pitching weekend

by Anthony Maggio

A fastball low and away was the finishing touch.

In the third inning of Saturday’s first game at Siebert Field, Minnesota pitcher C.J. Woodrow coaxed Purdue second baseman Nick McIntyre to foul tip his heater into the glove of Gary Dick, good for Woodrow’s 244th career strikeout.

The final strike was monumental, because it propelled Woodrow past Minnesota’s all-time career record of 243 strikeouts – set 49 years ago by the late Paul Giel.

“The record is just awesome,” Woodrow said. “It’s a humbling thing. I’m just honored to be mentioned with the names of the people up there. I almost don’t deserve it because they’re such quality pitchers. It’s just something that’s been around for so long, to be able to break it is just an honor.”

In addition, Woodrow fanned another batter in his complete game victory, and tied the all-time Big Ten win mark by a Gophers pitcher at 15. He shares the distinction with former hurler Steve Comer.

As dominating as Woodrow has been throughout his career at Minnesota, the Gophers were just as good against the Boilermakers over the weekend.

Minnesota swept Purdue for the second straight season, upping its Big Ten win streak to five games. After the first three contests, Gophers starters Woodrow and Glen Perkins had pitched complete game wins, and Jay Gagner pitched all but one inning in another victory.

“We’ve had pretty good starting pitching all year,” coach John Anderson said. “But I think back-to-back-to-back it was the most consistent it’s been in awhile.”

Not to be outdone, Matt Loberg threw his first career shutout in the fourth and final contest, upping his record to 5-1. Loberg hasn’t given up an earned run in his last 15 innings.

As a staff, the Gophers starters pitched 31 of 32 innings. Jeff Moen relieved Gagner in the seventh inning of the third game to earn his sixth save of the season.

But pitching isn’t all that went well for Minnesota. At the plate, the Gophers came into the weekend hoping to improve their hitting in clutch situations.

Mission accomplished: Minnesota managed to be on the winning end of two one-run contests, and of the 21 runs the Gophers scored as a team, 11 came with two outs.

“Timely hits and two-out hits especially really helped gain momentum into the later innings,” right fielder Ben Pattee said. “It really helps the confidence overall.”

Pattee hit a solo home run in the third inning of game three, which turned out to be the winning RBI. The Gophers, who hit just 19 home runs in 42 games going into the weekend, blasted three over the fence against Purdue. Second baseman Luke Appert hit a two-run shot in game one, and Dick hit another two-run shot in game four.

In the final game, 14 of Minnesota’s 16 hits came with two outs. But the ability to win the close games is what pleased Anderson the most.

“Early in the year we didn’t handle some of these situations very well,” Anderson said. “Their composure and the way they’ve stayed centered was the most impressive thing about this team.”

Thanks in part to the sweep, the Gophers are just three wins away from clinching the Big Ten regular-season title and playing host to the conference tournament. Minnesota can also thank Michigan, as the Wolverines took three of four games over the weekend from Ohio State, who entered the series just three games behind the Gophers in the loss column.

But Minnesota isn’t worried about clinching just yet.

“That’d be great if we could do it next weekend, but that’s not what we’re looking for,” outfielder Sam Steidl said. “We’re not trying to think about it even, we’re just trying to win as many games as we can.”

That shouldn’t be too hard for the Gophers; they just need to use Woodrow as their model. Woodrow, who came to Minnesota as a walk-on, has proven that he, and his team, can accomplish anything.

“For a kid that was a walk-on and we weren’t sure how he was going to fit in at the Division I level, it’s quite an accomplishment,” Anderson said. “I remember when we recruited him I said, ‘C.J., come here and prove me wrong, I’d love to have you prove me wrong.’ He did, and I don’t have any problem eating crow over that.”

Anthony Maggio covers baseball and welcomes comments at [email protected]