Injury-filled season ends with decent results

Minnesota exited the Big Ten tournament with two consecutive losses.

Minnesotas Ben Meyer pitches against Western Illinois on March 9, 2013, at the Metrodome.

Daily File Photo, Bridget Bennett

Minnesota’s Ben Meyer pitches against Western Illinois on March 9, 2013, at the Metrodome.

by Joe Perovich

A year ago, the Gophers claimed both the Big Ten’s second-best team ERA and the No. 4 seed in the conference tournament.

Minnesota lost its two top starting pitchers to the Major League Baseball draft last June, and the team battled through injuries, but it still grabbed this year’s No. 4 seed for the second consecutive season.

“Nobody really, I felt like, understood we had a lot coming back,” senior pitcher Alec Crawford said. “I felt like as a team we did really well from that standpoint.”

Crawford and junior pitcher Ben Meyer were critical in reaffirming the team’s standing.

Both of the upperclassmen started 15 games and closed in on 100 innings pitched.

That wasn’t the case for starting catcher Matt Halloran, who went down with an arm injury at the beginning of the season and never returned.

From that point forward, the season featured an added sub-plot — a carousel of catchers.

“It was definitely interesting,” Meyer said. “It was really tough early on because Matt Halloran has kind of been our main catcher … and most of the pitching staff is pretty comfortable with him back there.”

Freshman Austin Athmann was the initial player called upon to fill the void, but he missed time after sustaining an injury of his own.

“Once [Halloran] went down, our coaches kept on saying it was the next-man-up philosophy,” Meyer said.

When both Halloran and Athmann became unavailable, junior utility player Mark Tatera stepped in.

“Meshing with a couple of them was really difficult at the beginning, but once we got it, it was kind of a sense of accomplishment,” Crawford said.

Numerous other players suffered injuries throughout the season, and the Gophers finished the season with an overall record of 27-24.

In the conference tournament, Minnesota was eliminated in two games, losing by just one run each time.

“Because of the injuries … I was surprised. This was probably a team that could’ve very easily ended up in 10th or 11th place based on what we went through,” head coach John Anderson said in a press conference after the Gophers were eliminated from the tournament.

The Gophers’ main weakness in recent seasons has been their failure to find efficiency at the plate.

The 2014 team hit .256, the lowest team average in more than a decade.

“To be consistent on offense, and to be able to have quality at-bats consistently in the lineup from game-to-game, from inning-to-inning … that has been our struggle,” Anderson said at the press conference. “We have to fix that going ahead into 2015.”