Minn. thumps Nebraska-Omaha

The Gophers handled the Mavericks in game one of a two-game set.

Gophers pitcher Ben Meyer pitches as members of both teams look on in anticipation Tuesday night at the Metrodome.

Gophers pitcher Ben Meyer pitches as members of both teams look on in anticipation Tuesday night at the Metrodome.

Samuel Gordon

The Gophers’ offense has come and gone all year but it showed up Tuesday.

Seven Minnesota players combined for 12 hits as the Gophers beat down Nebraska-Omaha, 8-4.

Minnesota nabbed a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the second inning and roughed up Mavericks’ pitchers in the game’s middle innings.

Center fielder Andy Henkemeyer was 3-for-3 with a pair of RBIs, and second baseman Tony Skjefte was 3-for-3 with an RBI and three runs scored.

Henkemeyer, normally the No. 2 hitter, batted leadoff and said he was very comfortable with the role.

“Wherever they put me is fine,” he said. “We’ve stressed all year getting that leadoff guy on whether it’s the very first inning or the bottom of the ninth.”

Freshman pitchers Jordan Jess and Ben Meyer combined to throw seven innings of two-run ball.

Jess started and loaded the bases in the first inning but minimized the damage and allowed just one run.

“I wasn’t locating my pitches, but eventually I was able to settle down and get a couple outs,” Jess said. “A couple guys made some plays.”

The Gophers seized a 2-1 lead in the second inning on back-to-back RBI singles by Henkemeyer and Skjefte.

Minnesota scored in the third, fifth and seventh innings and coasted the rest of the way.

The Gophers touched up UNO starter Curtis Smith for five runs, three earned, in six innings.

Head coach John Anderson elected to move Henkemeyer from left field into center field. Kurt Schlagen started in left field, and seldom-used Ethan Liederman started in right field.

Freshman Jake Bergren started in center field in every game in last weekend’s series against Northwestern.

Anderson said he started Henkemeyer, a junior, because of his experience against left-handed pitching.

Bergren did enter the game in the sixth inning and was 1-for-1 with a walk and a run scored.

A total of 14 position players saw action for the Gophers.

Although Minnesota is in the heart of Big Ten play, Anderson said midweek games are valuable for seasoning pitchers and position players.

“There’s nothing like game competition. It’s better than practice,” he said. “It’s about getting your pitching staff some work, and we played a lot of guys. We’re trying to gain some experience.”

Anderson expressed displeasure with the quality of his team’s at-bats after Sunday’s 6-0 win over Northwestern. Nine of Minnesota’s last 12 outs came via strikeouts, and the Gophers struck out 12 times in the game.

But Minnesota’s plate discipline was much better Tuesday as Gophers hitters drew seven walks and fanned only four times.

Minnesota will conclude its two-game set with UNO on Wednesday at 3:05 p.m.

Handel close to return

Anderson said shortstop Michael Handel is close to returning to the lineup.

Handel missed the last three games with an injury to his throwing (right) shoulder, but X-rays were negative, and he took batting practice Tuesday. Anderson said he wasn’t ready to return to the field.

It’s likely that he’ll hit on Wednesday, and the Gophers are hoping he can make a full return by this weekend, Anderson said.