Shockers face U in first round

They are the Dead Heads of college baseball; they follow their team around like a cult, and they’ll be in full force at Siebert Field this weekend.
They are Wichita State baseball fans.
Minnesota might have home-field advantage, but when the two teams meet Friday night in the opening round of the NCAA regional tournament, you better believe Shocker baseball will be loud and proud.
“I know they’ll bring the whole clan,” Gophers third baseman Jack Hannahan said. “It should be an exciting game.”
The excitement will certainly be in the air, in the stands, and in the dugouts.
Yes, it’s the NCAA tourney. But it’s also a contest between two Midwest rivals.
After all, Minnesota and Wichita State met once already this season, when the Gophers took two of three from the Shockers down in Kansas.
Wichita State coach Gene Stephenson said things won’t get any easier this time around against Minnesota.
“We were very fortunate to win one (earlier in the season),” Stephenson said. “Playing here will be more difficult for us, so I should think (the Gophers) will have a great deal of confidence.”
Minnesota sophomore Mike Kobow, who will get the start against Wichita State’s Brandon Sloan, said the Gophers can’t rely on past success to help carry them.
“That was over two and a half months ago,” Kobow said. “We are two different team now. We were struggling back then, but we’ve picked it up and I think we’re a better team now.”
Minnesota has gone through a lot since early March, but not quite as much as they have just recently.
It’s been a crazy couple of weeks for the Gophers. The combination of finals, winning a regular season Big Ten title, and hosting the conference tournament, has put a wear on Minnesota.
But now they’re ready to go.
“The last four to five days we’ve been able to get grounded in our situations and emotions,” Anderson said. “We haven’t had a lot of distractions and we’ve had a good week of practice.”
Along with Wichita State, Nebraska and Butler will also take to Siebert Field this weekend.
The Cornhuskers are fresh off a Big 12 tournament win — a tourney that saw Nebraska lose the opening game before bouncing back to win the next four for the title.
The Huskers are led by conference player of the year Shane Komine. The sophomore pitcher from Hawaii went 10-3 on the season, with an ERA of just 2.20.
Despite being the No. 1 seed in the region and having a national ranking in the top 10 of all three major polls, coach Dave Van Horn said this weekend will be no easy task for his ball club.
“Everybody here is equal,” Van Horn said. “You stay around until you lose two, and hopefully we’ll be here until Sunday.”
The task for the top seed begins at 1 p.m. today when the Huskers take on Butler.
Like Nebraska, the Bulldogs are also coming off a tournament championship. Butler won the Midwestern Collegiate Conference championship last weekend.
This trip to the regional marks the school’s first appearance in the NCAA tournament.
While Butler might not be familiar with postseason play, the Bulldogs head coach and several players are very familiar with Minnesota.
Coach Steve Farley is a graduate of Minnesota. Farley was a pitcher on the Gophers from 1979-1981. Butler also has three Minnesotans on its roster.
The four teams will run onto to Siebert Field this weekend, but only one can run onto to the super regionals next week.
With that prize waiting in the wings, all four teams can’t wait for their games to get underway.
“We are anxious and ready to play,” Anderson said. “We’re looking forward to the challenges that lie ahead in this tournament.”

John R. Carter covers baseball and welcomes comments at [email protected]