U baseball: The hits keep on coming

Anthony Maggio

Three years ago, Minnesota baseball coach John Anderson saw a slew of talented youngsters on his squad, but with the structure of the professional draft, he had no idea what his team would look like a few years down the road.

But a glance at the roster prior to the 2003 season showed some monster potential: players who didn’t leave school early to realize their major league dreams.

“Last fall we sat down and said we have a chance to have a veteran team and a good offensive team,” Anderson said.

So far, Minnesota’s tenured lineup has delivered and then some at the plate.

In Big Ten play, the Gophers (21-11, 10-0 Big Ten) lead the league with a .385

batting average. Four individuals are hitting over .400 for the conference season. Senior Luke Appert has the lowest batting average of players with at least two at bats in Big Ten games at .303, but leads the team in overall batting average at .405.

Minnesota leads the Big Ten in slugging percentage (.518), on base percentage (.455), runs scored (81), hits (115), RBIs (73) and doubles (31) in conference games.

As a result, Minnesota takes an unblemished conference record to Illinois (18-12, 6-6) this weekend. The Gophers take on the Illini at 6:35 tonight, in two games on Saturday, and an afternoon contest on Sunday.

If Minnesota wins tonight, it would tie the Gophers best start ever in conference play at 11-0, which they achieved in 1993.

“We go up there with the mindset that we’re going to win,” senior Ben Pattee said. “We’ve prepared and we’ve done the things necessary to hit well on a daily basis.”

Pattee is hitting .375 in Big Ten games, tied for 14th best in the conference with teammate David Hrncirik, but good for only a fifth-place tie on the team.

In Big Ten play, senior Scott Welch is hitting .429 (fifth), junior Sam Stiedl is close behind at .421 (seventh), redshirt freshman Andy Hunter is batting .417 (eighth), and senior David Roach is hitting at a .407 clip (10th).

“We don’t have to search for roles because everyone knows what they are expected to do,” reigning Big Ten Player of the Week Stiedl said. “Everybody feeds off each other. It’s nice; it just feels normal.”

A big reason for Minnesota’s success at the plate is simply getting the bat on the ball. The Gophers have struck out a mere 31 times in Big Ten games. The next best is Michigan, striking out 41 times as a team.

“We try to pride ourselves on striking out four or less times a game,” Anderson said. “When you put the ball in play good things can happen.

“That’s been a trademark of this team.”

With such a well-rounded lineup, the Gophers provide no breaks for opposing pitchers.

“When everyone is hitting well everyone gets more pitches to hit because the pitchers have to throw strikes,” Pattee said.

But as former Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi once said, luck is the residue of preparation. And right now, Minnesota feels like its ready for anything.

“We thought we’d be able to compete in the league and win more than we lost, but I don’t think anybody could have predicted we’d start 10-0,” Anderson said. “We’ve gotten some things to go our way; we’ve gotten our share of breaks. You’ve got to be lucky too, at times.”

Added Pattee: “We don’t want to make any predictions, but if we keep playing well we can’t be beat. I think we’re better than the competition right now.”

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