Senior hurlers bounce back after rough 2008

During the seventh inning stretch on Saturday afternoon, a familiar voice boomed over the public address system at Siebert Field. âÄúHey everybody, Harry Caray here!âÄù Obviously, it wasnâÄôt the late great Cubs broadcaster, nor was it Will FerrellâÄôs satirical impersonation. Instead, it was senior Chauncy HandranâÄôs spot-on replica of FerrellâÄôs famous impression of Caray. Those at the ballpark were treated to HandranâÄôs raspy crooning of âÄúTake Me Out to the Ballgame,âÄù then went back to watching MinnesotaâÄôs 26-9 drubbing of Iowa. Few knew of HandranâÄôs talent before his cameo in the press box, but itâÄôs not the first time Gophers fans have been surprised by what Handran is capable of. *** Head coach John Anderson recalled former Twins manager Tom KellyâÄôs words: âÄúYouâÄôre only as good as your next dayâÄôs starting pitcher.âÄù If thatâÄôs the case, Minnesota is awfully good on Friday nights, because on Saturday, senior Tom Buske takes the mound. No hitter in his right mind wants to face Buske. Stepping into the box, heâÄôs vaguely aware that Buske spent the previous evening dissecting each at-bat, picking out weaknesses; putting together a plan to make him look foolish. And Buske has proven fully capable of doing just that. *** Handran arrived as a junior college transfer from Miles Community College in 2008 and spent most of the season struggling to adjust to Division I baseball. He pitched just 27 innings in 13 appearances, finishing the year with a 7.00 ERA. His difficulties were simultaneously surprising and unsurprising. Surprising because he went 5-1 and led all NJCAA Division II pitchers with a 1.37 ERA in his sophomore season at Miles; unsurprising because that sophomore season was his first ever as a pitcher. The transition from junior college to Division I is daunting enough without transitioning from outfield to pitcher at the same time. âÄúAt the beginning of the [2009 season], I talked to [assistant coach Rob Fornasiere] and he said thatâÄôs the normal thing with junior college guys,âÄù Handran said. âÄúThey have a slow start the first year, get used to the program and the second year take off and do good things.âÄù Fornasiere knew what he was talking about. *** After 2008, MinnesotaâÄôs worst season in over 60 years, little was certain âÄî especially in regards to pitchers. âÄú[Pitching coach Todd Oakes], when we came back took the pitching staff and said, âÄòWeâÄôre starting over. Every job is available,âÄô âÄù Anderson said. Welcome news perhaps to those who hoped to break into the starting rotation; less so for a two-year starter like Buske. Suddenly as a senior he was jockeying for a role he had held since his sophomore season. Like essentially everyone on the team, his junior year didnâÄôt go as planned âÄî 4-6 with a 4.92 ERA. But a year before that he led starting pitchers with a 3.43 ERA and compiled a 5-2 record. âÄúI felt [in 2008] IâÄôd have some mental lapses here and there and wouldnâÄôt be as focused and prepared throughout the course of a game or the season,âÄù Buske said. Those mental lapses are nowhere to be found now, and not only has Buske reclaimed his job in 2009, heâÄôs thrived. *** HandranâÄôs senior season has surprised even him. Would he have expected to be the GophersâÄô Friday starter, with a 6-2 record and a 3.45 ERA? âÄúNot really âĦ after the year I had last year,âÄù Handran admits. But Handran got to work bettering himself immediately after the 2008 season ended, Anderson said. âÄúThe thing I was impressed with,âÄù Anderson said, âÄúfrom the day the season was over, Chauncy spent the whole summer getting himself into better shape, taking the information that he learned, making some changes and adjustments and came back with an entirely different level of confidence and belief in himself.âÄù The confidence has translated to a dominant season, one that perhaps only Fornasiere expected. *** The impetus behind BuskeâÄôs resurgence is hard to pinpoint. HeâÄôs a student of the game. Because heâÄôs started on Saturday this season instead of Friday, he can scout hitters live just before facing them. HeâÄôs sandwiched between Handran and sophomore Seth Rosin, two pitchers with styles that donâÄôt resemble his. The true reason is probably a combination of those, but tying everything together is his experience. Anderson puts it simply: âÄúHeâÄôs a fifth year senior, heâÄôs played a lot; he understands how to get people out.âÄù Buske gets people out about as effectively as anyone in the Big Ten. His 2.56 ERA and .206 opposing average are both second-best in the conference respectively behind MichiganâÄôs Chris Fetter and Ohio StateâÄôs Alex Wimmers. But the most telling effect of his experience: even the seniors look up to him. âÄúBuske is a huge leader for this team,âÄù Handran said. âÄúEverything he does I try to follow in his path. Everything he does is perfect.âÄù