Road-weary baseball heads to Penn St.

Anthony Maggio

How’s this for a hectic schedule?

Minnesota’s baseball team played four games in three days last weekend. Tuesday afternoon, the team hopped on a bus for an eight-hour drive to Lincoln, Neb., where it played a game Wednesday afternoon.

The Gophers finished up around 7:30 Wednesday night, then got back on the bus for Minneapolis, where they arrived a few hours before dawn.

After getting a few classes in, the players got on a bus again, this time heading for the airport to catch a 6:30 flight to Happy Valley, P.A., where they will play four games the next three days versus Penn State.

So one would guess the biggest issue for the 13-16 Gophers is sleep deprivation. But coach John Anderson is worried about a lack of practice.

“We’re going to have to try to make the adjustments on the fly here,” Anderson said. “It’s not just (Thursday), it’s the last couple of weeks. We haven’t had the opportunity for much practice time. That’s what we desperately need.”

Minnesota is reeling after two straight losses, with Wednesday’s coming at the bats of the 12th-ranked team in the country.

But the 12-3 loss to the Cornhuskers rests solely on the Gophers shoulders, as they committed four errors, while the middle of the lineup went 0-12 on the afternoon.

“We’re not going to win many games when the middle of the lineup is struggling like that,” fifth hitter Scott Howard said. “We’re going to have to have some guys step up this weekend.”

Minnesota faces its biggest obstacle Friday in the first of the four-game set: pitcher Mike Watson.

On March 29, Watson shut out Purdue 1-0. In his last outing, the Lions ace gave up only two runs on four hits and recorded 11 strikeouts against Ohio State.

“The big challenge will be trying to score some runs against him,” Anderson said. “If we lose the first one, then we’ve got to win three in a row (to win the series), and that’s hard to do.”

In their own dugout, the Gophers will be without one of their top arms. Starting pitcher Jay Gagner (3-0) will not make the trip to Penn State due to swelling and soreness in his left elbow.

Gagner was taken out of Sunday’s game with Michigan after five innings of work, and went to the doctor Wednesday. He expects to be out for two weeks.

“In the last month it’s really started to flare up and it finally kind of came to a head after the game on Sunday,” Gagner said.

Gagner will be re-evaluated Wednesday, and hopes to be cleared to start playing catch again. If all goes according to Gagner’s plan, he will only miss the next two Big Ten series.

“I’m disappointed,” Gagner said. “You work all year for this part of the season, and now I’ve got to sit out for a couple weeks.”

Minnesota is perched a game out of first in the conference, meaning a series win on the road puts the team in great shape midway through the Big Ten season.

And after 33 games, the Gophers will finally get to practice outdoors next week.

“I’ve always said, we get better as the weather gets better,” Anderson said.

Friday’s forecast in State College: Mostly cloudy and 65.

Anthony Maggio covers baseball and welcomes
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