Stanford is site for U; Alabama first foe

Sarah Mitchell

If Minnesota’s baseball team is to extend its season and compete next week in Omaha, Neb. — home of the College World Series — it might have to beat the top team in the nation.
Regional seedings were announced Monday and the Gophers (45-13) learned they will spend the upcoming weekend on the West Coast, participating in a region that features Loyola Marymount, Alabama, Long Beach State, North Carolina State and No. 1-ranked Stanford, the host school.
Minnesota qualified for regionals on Saturday by winning the Big Ten Tournament with victories over Ohio State, Penn State and Illinois. Illinois, the only other Big Ten team to qualify for regionals, is a No. 5 seed in the South I Region.
If the fifth-seeded Gophers hope to continue their tournament success, they are going to have to go through second-seeded Alabama first, as the teams will meet in Thursday’s first-round game.
The Gophers won the right to compete in regionals by winning the conference tournament, but they are seeded lower than some teams who received at-large bids. Minnesota players, however, were not affected by the low seed.
“You’re going to have to win four games. You are going to have to play one of the top teams in the country eventually,” right fielder Craig Selander said.
While some teams would dread playing the runner-up from last year’s World Series, the Gophers are preparing for the game against Alabama with a positive attitude.
“They’ve got a lot of experience,” Selander said. “It would be a big confidence booster for us to beat them.”
Winning game one of the tournament is key to the Gophers’ survival in the double-elimination competition. In order to do that, Minnesota will have to maintain the loose attitude that carried it through the Big Ten tournament.
“There’s no difference in pressure unless you bring it upon yourself,” pitcher Dan McGrath said. “It’s just the same as last weekend plus all of the weekends before that. All of them had pressure.”
McGrath said the team’s biggest obstacle might not be Stanford, but its own mistakes.
“If we are going to get beat it’s going to be by ourselves,” McGrath said. “That’s the only way I can see it happening.”
Hot under the collar
The temperature in the already overheated press conference tent at Illinois Field rose following the Gophers’ victory over Penn State on Friday. But the instigator was not a lack of ventilation or a dying wind; rather, it was a member of the media.
“You took a little bit of a risk, it looks like to me in your rotation,” a reporter said to Gophers coach John Anderson. “You pitched (Brad Pautz) and now you’ve got (Dan McGrath) sitting there for that championship game, a left hander. It looks like you set the table up perfectly. Is everything going according to boil for you?”
Anderson’s sizzling response clearly defended Pautz.
“Well, I don’t think we took a risk at all by pitching Brad,” Anderson said. “He’s an outstanding pitcher. He’s pitched in the second day of the league all year, and I don’t think there’s much difference between him and McGrath.”
In further explaining the pitching rotation that weekend, Anderson said that the right-handed Pautz was a better match-up for the Penn State offense, while the southpaw McGrath would give the Gophers a better chance at beating Illinois.
“I don’t think other than Ben Birk (Minnesota’s number one hurler), we’ve really established that anybody is going to pitch in a certain order,” Anderson said. “I think all year we have tried to match people up based on giving the guy the best chance to win.”
No love from the bus
Two weekends ago, as the team traveled to Evanston, Ill., for a weekend series against Northwestern, the bus that players rode on seemed to be a good friend of theirs. Many players were tired of dealing with the hassles of flying; sitting on a bus for seven hours was a welcome change.
But the Gophers were stood up this past weekend. The team waited patiently outside the Bierman Athletic Building on Wednesday for a bus to transport them to the airport in time to catch their flight to Champaign, Ill. It never arrived.
“We had to load all of our stuff on the equipment truck and scramble to get to the airport. We got there and the plane sat at the gate for an hour before we took off,” Anderson said. “First time in 25 years my travel secretary forgot to book a bus.”
Talking tourney
Anderson, in his 17th season as head coach, has been around long enough to fully experience college baseball. Therefore, when the veteran coach complimented Illinois for the organization of the tournament, the host school knew Anderson’s words were more than courteous comments.
“It was a first class operation and they deserve credit,” he said. “I thought they did a tremendous job in this tournament. They should be proud of that. I think they brought some respect back to the Big Ten baseball.”