BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Somehow, just one loss over the weekend seemed to mar the Gophers baseball team’s final Big Ten road series. After recovering from a sluggish start at Indiana on Friday and claiming the series’ first three games, an 11-10 loss on Sunday dropped Minnesota’s (31-10 overall, 12-4 in the Big Ten) conference road record to 10-2.
The Gophers not only lost the series finale, but also lost ground on conference-leading Ohio State. Bidding to host the Big Ten tournament a month from now, the Buckeyes hold a three-game advantage over Minnesota.
“It’s important, but I guess we can’t really worry about what they’re doing,” Gophers pitcher Chadd Clarey said. “We have to play our game.”
After overcoming five miscues in the field in the series opener to beat Indiana 9-7, Minnesota was in clear command of the series. Eleven walks and six errors, compliments of the Hoosiers (29-12, 7-9), allowed the Gophers to sweep Saturday’s doubleheader 16-3 and 9-7.
But on Sunday, a frustrated Indiana team took the field. Before dropping three games to Minnesota, the Hoosiers were tied for third in the conference. Saving one game and their Big Ten tournament hopes provided the incentive.
“We’re the type of team that catches on fire,” Hoosiers senior Sam Incandela said. “Like (Hoosiers coach Bob Morgan) was talking to us about, right now we’re just contagious the wrong way. And once we catch on fire, once somebody breaks something, you never know.”
Indiana’s first baseman Chris Stroble fueled his team on Sunday, going 3-for-3 and scoring three runs. Stroble and his teammates knocked Gophers starting pitcher Chadd Clarey off the mound in the third inning.
The Hoosiers pitching staff struggled with its control in the late innings. Minnesota’s three-run ninth inning rally fell short, leaving senior Robb Quinlan stranded on second base.
Sunday’s offensive struggle replicated the series opener. Gophers starting pitcher Kelly Werner held Indiana in check until Minnesota exploded for six runs in the eighth inning. With Werner on the mound for six innings, the Hoosiers tallied five hits and six runs, all of which were unearned.
“Kelly had a good outing,” Gophers coach John Anderson said. “We were out of control on Friday, to be honest. I give the guys a lot of credit because they settled down and put their energy into playing the game.”
The winning feeling carried over to Saturday’s doubleheader. Starting pitcher Brad Pautz (6-2) guided the team to a win in game one on Saturday.
The staff ace lasted six innings, before giving way to reliever Aron Amundson in the final inning. Pautz allowed nine hits and three runs while walking two batters and striking out five. Infielder Matt Scanlon helped Pautz’s cause, going 2-for-4 while driving in four runs.
“(Pautz) had a great performance because I don’t think he had his best stuff (Saturday),” Anderson said. “He found a way to win without his best stuff and I think that’s why I’ve been impressed with him this season. He’s developed into a pitcher.”
The game appeared to get easier for the Gophers in Saturday’s nightcap. Minnesota built an early lead, scoring five runs in the second inning. Two of those runs crossed the plate off a milestone hit.
Quinlan went 1-for-3 in the second game, but the Gophers first baseman’s lone hit made history. The veteran’s two-RBI triple in the top of the second inning set the Big Ten career record with 306 and dropped Indiana’s Alex Smith, who set the record in 1986, to second on the list.
The Gophers will close out the Big Ten regular season with three series at Siebert Field. Minnesota travels to Iowa State Wednesday before hosting Illinois this weekend.
“I actually think we play a little better on the road. At home we try too hard,” Anderson said. “I think we get at home and we get a little too excited. We’ll have to try and tone them down a little bit.”