Minn. gets to stay in friendly Dome

A week after winning the D.Q. Classic, the Gophers will try to win another.

Minnesota has experienced failure and success two weeks into the baseball season, and the bullpen has remained at the center of both.

The young Gophers bullpen has become emblematic of a team trying to sort its way through a difficult schedule.

Last weekend, Minnesota (2-4 overall, 0-0 Big Ten) scored wins against then-ranked No. 17 Tulane and No. 29 Pepperdine behind their emerging bullpen.

The Gophers have eight freshman relief pitchers, and they made an impact over the weekend as the bullpen only allowed one run over the last nine innings of relief.

“We always talk about (when you come out of the bullpen) being able to execute the first pitch and then get the first hitter out you face,” head coach John Anderson said. “It’s a big step from the first weekend, that’s for sure.”

The entire pitching staff got roughed up in the first weekend against No. 2 Mississippi, but bounced back nicely. The performance from freshman Phil Isaksson served as an example of the resiliency the pitchers have exhibited.

In his first appearance of the year against Ole Miss, Isaksson gave up four runs on five hits in one and two-thirds innings of work.

Last weekend against the Waves, Isaksson entered the game with runners on first and third and one out. Isaksson struck out the first batter he faced, and got a pop-fly out to retire the side.

“It was a pretty high-pressure situation, but that’s something I actually kind of like,” Isaksson said.

Isaksson picked up the first save of his career after he retired all 11 batters he faced, striking four out.

As a result of his effort, he became the first freshman to earn the Big Ten Pitcher of the Week honor since Glen Perkins earned it for Minnesota since 2003.

“Sometimes with young players, their confidence comes and goes with the last inning. I was impressed he didn’t lose his confidence,” Anderson said. “That’s been the character of the team.”

The Gophers will rely on those arms again this weekend in the Metrodome tournament as they will face two heavy-hitting lineups with New Mexico and No. 18 California.

The Gophers will face the Lobos (7-3 overall, 0-0 Mountain West) Friday night. They enter the weekend batting .335 as a team, but they have lost their last three games.

Minnesota will also have to contend with a surging California team Saturday that has won four of its past five games.

The Bears (6-1-1 overall, 0-0 Pac 10) have one of the top hitters in college baseball in first baseman David Cooper. Last season, Cooper hit .382 with 55 RBI in 55 games. He has maintained those lofty numbers already this season with a .393 average and a .929 slugging percentage.

Add to the mix second baseman Josh Satin, who has a .459 average and 12 RBI, and Cal has a solid offense.

In the tournament finale Sunday, the Gophers will face Northern Iowa (4-4 overall, 0-0 Missouri Valley).

The Panthers have won their last two games, and their four defeats have been by four runs or less.

“I know these teams coming up this weekend are very strong offensively, so we’re going to need to continue to help our pitching staff out and score some runs,” junior center fielder Matt Nohelty said. “They’re going to have to keep us in the game, but we’re going to have to put some runs up in order to give us a chance to win.”