Baseball: Gophers likely need to win Big Ten tournament to qualify for NCAAs

Jace Frederick

The Gophers enter this week’s Big Ten baseball tournament at Target Field almost certainly needing to win the tournament to extend their season.

Minnesota (30-20) is the fourth seed in this week’s double-elimination tournament and will start Wednesday afternoon against fifth-seeded Illinois.

The Gophers sport an RPI of 0.5833, placing them 124th in the nation, according to WarrenNolan.com. Those numbers make it unlikely for the Gophers to make the NCAA tournament field through an at-large bid.

After contending for the regular-season Big Ten championship for most of the year, Minnesota finished 2-6 in its final eight games. The Gophers needed their 2-0 victory over Illinois last Saturday in their regular-season finale just to make the conference tournament.

“We kind of stubbed our toe coming home here at the end,” Gophers head coach John Anderson said.

The Gophers' offense was a big reason for the team’s late-season struggles. Minnesota’s bats finished 10th in the Big Ten in both runs scored (222) and batting average (.258).

Minnesota will likely need to rely on its pitching staff to contend deep into the weekend. The Gophers finished the regular season second in the conference in earned run average (2.86) and first in opposing batting average (.238). Starting pitchers Tom Windle and D.J. Snelten were the only Gophers players to make the All-Big Ten First Team, which was announced Tuesday.

“We struggle offensively at times to score runs,” Anderson said. “We’ve been able to pitch at a fairly high level all year — that’s our strength. We have played pretty good defense — there’s been times down the stretch here we haven’t. We’ve got to pitch and play defense and try to grind out three or four runs to give ourselves a chance.”

Anderson, like many coaches in this week’s tournament, expressed an appreciation for the opportunity to play it at a major-league ballpark for the first time in Big Ten history.

“This is another chapter in our history, a chance to play in a major-league facility,” he said. “[This is] one of the top major-league facilities in the game in Target Field.”