Despite solid finale, season ends somberly

Trevor Born

In the final start of his career, Dustin Brabender pitched a marvelous game.

The senior went 7.2 innings, giving up just one earned run and striking out five, as the Gophers beat Penn State 4-2 to finish the season.

Unfortunately for the Gophers, all the win did was put them in a tie for last place in the Big Ten.

It also capped one of the worst seasons in program history for the Gophers. They finished 10-21 in the conference and missed the Big Ten tournament for the first time in 10 years. Their 20-35 overall record was the worst in more than 60 years and their first losing record since 1962.

Still, head coach John Anderson has found things to take away from the worst season of his 27-year tenure.

“There are some good things going on around here if you just don’t look at the scoreboard,” Anderson said. “That’s hard to do sometimes in sports because that’s how we’re judged, but we’re not just looking at the scoreboard to determine how we’re doing. We also have to be sensitive to be teaching and coaching and trying to get players to come along so we don’t have to go through this next year with these guys.”

In their season-ending win, for example, freshman Seth Rosin pitched the final four outs without an earned run, and freshman Mike Kvasnicka went 3-for-4 with two RBIs.

Rosin and Kvasnicka are two of 11 true and redshirt freshmen that played for the Gophers this season, making up one of the youngest teams in Anderson’s career.

But as the season progressed, the young team didn’t mature at the pace Anderson hoped.

“It’s time for us to grow up,” he said after splitting a series with Iowa, after which the team went 2-6 to finish the year.

“I know the coaches have been saying it before, but we can’t really say we’re too young anymore,” junior Nate Hanson said after being swept by Purdue in late April.

In all, the Gophers lost five one-run games and 12 games in which they had a lead or were tied with two or fewer innings to go – all with a freshman on the mound in relief.

“We knew coming into the year that we had a lot of young guys, and that there would be some growing pains,” Anderson said. “We’ve had to spend a lot more time with younger players on developing some mental fundamentals on how to get through some of the pressure situations.

“They’ve all been dominant high school players and they’ve never faced much adversity or failure. We’re trying to coach those guys on developing a routine and process to get through some of those situations,” he said.

Kvasnicka, a true freshman, was one of those players.

The Lakeville High School graduate was named one of the top-300 prep players in the country by Baseball America Magazine when he signed with the Gophers, but like many of the team’s younger players, he struggled for much of the season and finished tied with Kyle Knudson for the lowest batting average (.238) among starters.

But Kvasnicka showed signs of promise at the end of the year, going 10-for-19 (.526) in the last five games of the season.

“We still have a lot to learn, but we’ve really come far,” Kvasnicka said. “The leadership keeps us on track. We know there’s nothing else you can do but keep trucking along.”

Kvasnicka was the only freshman position player to come to the plate for the Gophers this year, but six different freshman pitchers had at least eight appearances.

Anderson is also bringing in a hefty 2009 class, with six players already committed – J.T. Canakees, Justin Gominsky, Troy Larson, Austin Lubinsky, Matt Puhl and Kurt Schlagen – making the Gophers one of the youngest teams in the conference next spring.

“We’re trying to develop this team and bring the younger kids along,” Anderson said. “And trying to keep teaching and coaching the game and see some growth here on our team.”