Minnesota baseball coach John Anderson stated the obvious before this weekend’s series at Northwestern: His players were going to have to start winning some series if they wanted move up in the standings.
They did, and they did.
Thanks to a 12-3 win in the series finale on Sunday, Minnesota took three of four games from the Wildcats and moved into a tie with Michigan for first place in the Big Ten.
The Gophers (22-15, 10-6 Big Ten) also won the second game of a doubleheader on Saturday 7-5 in eight innings and Friday’s game 9-1. Northwestern (16-19-1, 6-10) beat Minnesota 6-3 in the first game Saturday.
“The guys wanted to come out and put together a better effort on Sunday than we have recently,” Anderson said. “We wanted to put a good finish on the weekend.”
On Sunday, Jay Gagner pitched seven scoreless innings in relief of starter Cole DeVries. Gagner allowed just three hits and struck out six, reducing his team-leading ERA to 1.65.
Minnesota trailed 1-0 after the first inning and 3-2 after the second before scoring three runs in the top of the third.
Then Gagner came on and shut down the Wildcats batters while the offense added a run in the seventh, five in the eighth and one in the ninth for the blowout win.
Gagner said he had not performed like that since last year.
“It’s been awhile,” Gagner said. “It felt good to get out there again and throw well. It’s good to get that series win – we needed that real bad – big win for us.”
First baseman Andy Hunter hit his sixth home run of the season and scored three runs in the contest.
Shortstop Matt Fornasiere was 2-for-4 with a pair of RBIs, and left fielder Tony Leseman was 2-for-5 with two RBIs and a run scored.
In the second game Saturday, Minnesota rallied from a 3-0 deficit and scored three runs in the top of the eighth inning to avenge the earlier loss.
In the eighth, Leseman singled, pinch hitter Gary Dick was hit by a pitch and center fielder Sam Steidl walked before Fornasiere delivered a first-pitch single with one out.
Designated hitter Mike Mee followed with an RBI single of his own and Hunter’s sacrifice fly to right field made the score 7-4.
Closer Jeff Moen, who had gotten the last out in the seventh, came in for the bottom of the eighth and allowed two singles and a run before holding on for the victory. He is now 3-1 on the season.
Josh Krogman started, pitching 4 1/3 innings and allowing three earned runs.
“We had a good come-from-behind win on Saturday, and we just wanted to keep that going (on Sunday),” Fornasiere said.
In the first game Saturday, it was the Gophers who blew a 3-0 lead and took the loss.
Anderson said the game could’ve turned out different had Leseman been able to hold on to a three-run home run by Northwestern catcher Dan Pohlman in the fourth inning.
With two out, two on and the Gophers up 3-2, Anderson said Leseman jumped at the fence and had Pohlman’s home run ball in his glove but hit a flag pole behind the fence. The three runs ended up being the difference in a 6-3 Wildcats win.
“In retrospect, you’re one play away maybe from the sweep,” Anderson said. “It’s too bad looking back.”
Brian Bull started the game for the Gophers, pitching five innings and allowing five earned runs before regular starter Matt Loberg pitched the sixth inning.
Loberg was used sparingly because he took a line drive off his throwing elbow in Wednesday’s 17-2 win over North Dakota State.
Craig Molldrem, who usually starts the first game on Saturdays, got the weekend off because of soreness in his shoulder.
On Friday, Gophers starting pitcher Glen Perkins improved his career record against Big Ten opponents to 12-0 with an eight-inning, eight-strikeout performance. He allowed one unearned run and four hits.
Mee led Minnesota offensively, going 3-for-4 with three RBIs and three runs scored.
Overall, Anderson said the offense did a good job of piecing together several solid half-innings.
“We left less guys on base, and we got more hits with guys in scoring position,” Anderson said. “We’re getting a better idea of how to handle those situations, and that comes with experience.”