pitchers lead way to sweep

Sarah Mitchell

EAST LANSING, Mich. — The weekend weather report for East Lansing predicted unending rain, downpours that would last until Monday night.
Despite the dismal forecast and a postponed Friday night game, the Gophers baseball team got in all four games this weekend against Michigan State. Doubleheaders on Saturday and Sunday proved two things: The forecast was way off, and Minnesota was right on.
The Gophers (37-12 overall, 16-8 in the Big Ten) played to their potential and flooded Michigan State (24-24, 7-13) out of the Big Ten tournament race by sweeping the series.
“We had all three aspects — timely hitting, defense and solid pitching,” right fielder Craig Selander said. “
The Gophers’ starting pitchers were more of a damper on Michigan State than the projected weather conditions. Three Minnesota starters threw complete-game victories, as the team’s offense and defense combined to beat the Spartans by scores of 2-1, 4-1, 9-3 and 5-1.
Saturday’s starters Ben Birk and Dan McGrath each recorded victories, improving their records to 6-1 and 8-2, respectively. The two, who roomed together on the road trip, sat in their hotel room late Saturday night comparing their pitching statistics. They found their performances were almost equal on paper.
In throwing complete games, McGrath and Birk each surrendered only one run while walking no one. On the weekend, the Gophers pitching staff walked only six batters.
Both Saturday starters also had similar pitch counts. McGrath threw 93 pitches and Birk threw 95, as both retired batters early in the count.
“You don’t have to strike out a lot of batters,” pitcher Kelly Werner said. “When you throw strikeouts, it means you are throwing a lot of pitches. The perfect inning is three ground outs on three straight pitches.”
McGrath strung together seven solid innings, a vast improvement over last weekend, when he was pulled in the third inning of a start against Indiana.
It could have been easy for McGrath to over-throw this weekend, seeing as how he had the most intimidating matchup. The southpaw pitched against Mark Mulder, one of the top college prospects in the nation.
But McGrath turned in a star performance and even received a little offensive help, including a timely two-run home run by designated hitter Jim Egan.
From the first inning, McGrath knew he was in control.
“It’s always how you start off,” McGrath said. “If you have a good first inning, it paves the way.”
Although the All-American candidate Mulder picked up the loss, Gophers hitters were still impressed.
“The guy’s a stud. Didn’t you hear the catcher’s glove pop?” Selander asked. Selander later added that his and Egan’s home runs were a testament to Minnesota’s hitters.
Offensively, the Gophers continued their home run derby from last weekend, hitting a total of six. Even in the depths of Oldsmobile Park, which was built for the Class A Lansing Lugnuts, Robb Quinlan, Matt Scanlon, Selander and Egan went deep.
The Gophers have two mid-week games before heading to Northwestern for a four-game series next weekend. With victories in the middle of the week, Minnesota would not only improve its overall record, but also increase its chances of receiving an at-large NCAA Regional bid if it fails to win the conference tournament.
At this point, only a major disaster would prevent the Gophers from competing in the Big Ten tournament. Two weekends ago at Illinois, Birk, who started his comeback on the mound that weekend after suffering a shoulder injury, predicted members of the team would soon get on the same page and put a winning streak together.
That prediction represented a warning that the rest of the Big Ten should beware, and Minnesota has won seven of eight conference games since then. The team unified on the field last weekend against Indiana, and the bond seemed to grow stronger this weekend against the Spartans.
“We’re coming alive down the home stretch,” infielder Matt Brosseau said.

AB R H RBI
Quinlan 15 5 5 2
Scanlon 15 4 8 6
Selander 13 2 4 3
Groebner 13 1 3 1
R. Brosseau 7 1 2 0
Arlt 6 2 2 1
Horton 6 1 3 1
Devore 10 0 1 1
Negen 8 2 1 1
Holthaus 3 0 0 0
M. Brosseau 5 1 1 0
Egan 3 1 2 3
Totals 102 20 32 19