A strong Minnesota start dooms Tommies

The Gophers strung together five straight hits to open the game against St. Thomas.

by Mark Heise

For a traditionally strong defensive program like the Minnesota baseball team, offense just got really easy.

The Gophers scored early and often, cruising past the St. Thomas Tommies 9-2 at the Metrodome Wednesday night.

Minnesota clearly was focused on going with the pitch, sending nearly every one of its 13 hits back up the middle or to the opposite field.

“We were trying to stay inside the ball tonight,” senior shortstop Dan Lyons said. “The past couple weeks we’ve been struggling with trying to do too much with pitches, and tonight we did exactly what we wanted to do with it.”

The Gophers reached base with five consecutive singles in the first inning, scoring four runs to grab a lead they wouldn’t give up.

Freshman pitcher Allen Bechstein found comfort in the lead, starting for the Gophers and pitching three perfect innings in his debut.

But Bechstein was quick to credit his teammates after picking up his first career win.

“Once I threw a couple of strikes, I was able to settle down,” Bechstein said. “I thought the team put together a solid effort. When your offense spots you four runs, it makes pitching a lot easier.”

Minnesota expanded its lead in the bottom of the fourth. With two outs, sophomore centerfielder Matt Nohelty singled up the middle and came around to score on freshman middle-infielder Derek McCallum’s RBI single. McCallum would later score on an error, boosting the Gophers’ lead to six.

Minnesota lost its shutout bid in the fifth however, as the Tommies’ bottom of the lineup clumped together three hits, sending a runner across home plate.

St. Thomas would score again in the sixth, taking advantage of a pair of leadoff walks to push across its second run of the game.

But the Gophers had an answer each time, as sophomore first baseman Jon Hummel drew a leadoff walk in the fifth, coming around to score on a double-play ball. In the sixth, it was McCallum tripling to the right-centerfield gap and scoring on a fielder’s choice.

In the eighth, Minnesota expanded its lead in a less conventional way using catcher’s interference, a wild pitch and a double-play to put up its ninth run of the night.

The Gophers held that lead in the ninth, picking up their sixth win while playing 23 from their roster.

Coach John Anderson had hoped to have a chance to see a variety of players, and was pleased with the results.

“We played everybody and it was a great opportunity to evaluate some people, and also for them to get experience,” he said. “I was pleased with the results, we played solid defense throughout, and we had some quality at bats.”

But despite the runaway win, some of the same troubles that have plagued Minnesota earlier this season showed up again.

The Gophers’ lineup was waiting well on a lot of the pitches, but there were still several pitches Minnesota rolled over, resulting in four double plays on the night. Heading into the conference, this flaw could be a concern.

“That has been one of our problems over the last couple of weeks, and it’s something we’ve got to fix,” Lyons said. “We just have to put more effort into that in practice, and keep working to stay inside the ball.”