Win over Mankato St. fails to impress U baseball coach

Ryan Schuster

Gophers baseball coach John Anderson had a hard time putting his team’s 9-7 come-from-behind win over Mankato State on Friday night at the Metrodome into words.
During post-game interviews, Anderson was visibly upset over Minnesota’s performance and seemed more intent on bemoaning his team’s shortcomings in the game than lauding its accomplishments.
“I think we tried too hard,” Anderson said. “We were more interested in evening the score than putting our energy into doing the things we needed to do to play good baseball. We were a little too high-strung. The players were talking about it before the game and really wanted to win this game. That’s not a good motivator, when you have to use the fact that you got beat last year.”
With the win, the Gophers snapped a two-game losing streak against the Mavericks, who had won three of the last four meetings between the two teams going into the game.
Junior right fielder Craig Selander finally ended the see-saw affair with a one-out, 408-foot game-winning home run that easily cleared the hefty bag in left-center field.
While both teams came into the game with some extra incentive because of the rivalry that has developed between them the last several years, Minnesota clearly felt like it had something extra to prove.
“They beat us the last two years and we didn’t want them to beat us again,” said winning pitcher Ben Birk, who equalled a career-high with 10 strike outs, despite only facing 20 batters in 4 2/3 innings of work. “This win means a lot to us.”
Many coaches would be as satisfied as the Gophers players were to come back and win a close game like that, no matter how their team played. Similarly, most skippers would be happy just to have a team of Minnesota’s caliber that is off to a start like the Gophers, who at 14-3 have the second-best start in school history.
But Anderson, who has led Minnesota to 30-plus wins in 15 of the last 16 years, has higher aspirations for his team.
“We’ve been pitching pretty well,” Anderson said. “We’ve been scoring a lot of runs lately and it’s come pretty easy for us. We’ve got a lot of work to do to be a good baseball team, though. I like where we’re at, but we’ve still got a long ways to go.”
Minnesota, which finished fifth in the Big Ten last year, only has three seniors on its 43-man roster and might experience some growing pains at times this season. Friday’s game had five lead changes and was in doubt up until the final at bat of the contest, thanks in part to the Gophers’ inconsistent play.
The Gophers had blown early leads of 1-0 and 5-4 before taking the lead at 7-6 in the bottom of the eighth inning on a ground-rule double by pinch hitter Josh Holthaus. Mankato State again rallied for a run in the top of the ninth to tie the game, setting up Selander’s heroics.
Selander was 1-for-5 with two runs batted in and senior left fielder Mark Groebner went 2-for-4 with two RBIs. Holthaus was 1-for-1 in his one pinch-hit appearance and had two RBIs on the night.
Minnesota’s dramatic comeback win Friday night and its hot start to the season have some players talking of loftier goals than just winning the Big Ten and advancing to the NCAA tournament.
“We’re really gelling as a team,” Birk said. “None of us care about our individual stats. We’re all in it for the long haul. The ultimate goal is to get to Omaha for the College World Series.”
But for Anderson, who is more guardedly optimistic about his young team’s chances this year, Friday’s win over Mankato State doesn’t hold as much importance.
“We were fortunate to win the game,” Anderson said. “I’m not sure we deserved to win it, but we did.”

MINNESOTA HITTING
AB R H RBI
Arlt 4 1 1 0
Scanlon 5 1 2 1
Quinlan 5 2 2 0
Groebner 4 0 2 2
Selander 5 1 1 2
Egan 4 1 2 0
M. Brosseau 4 1 1 0
Negen 1 0 0 0
Devore 1 1 1 0
R. Brosseau 3 1 0 0
Holthaus 1 0 1 2
Team 37 9 13 7