Minnesota heats up over break with nine straight wins

Maybe it was jealousy of friends on vacation that motivated Minnesota’s baseball team over the past 10 days. Or perhaps it was just frustration after a slow 7-11 start.
Either way, the Gophers were hotter than a beach in Mexico this past week. Minnesota rolled off nine straight wins to improve its record to 16-11, 4-0 in the Big Ten.
An 11-0 waffle-stomping of Oral Roberts at the Metrodome on Sunday was the final piece.
“A lot of our friends go to Cancun, and we can’t,” said Minnesota shortstop Rick Brosseau. “But we’re here to play baseball. We came out and played hard over break, and good things happened.”
Those good things have been hard to find this season for Minnesota, but when a team outscores its opponents 79-21 over a nine-game stretch, good things will come.
The Gophers have had balanced performances from both pitching and hitting, something they weren’t getting earlier in the season.
“We’re playing well as a team, and it’s exciting,” Brosseau said. “But it’s encouraging, also, after we started off slow. Now the guys are starting to gel as a team.”
It starts with offense for Minnesota. The Gophers are hitting .320 over the past nine games, led by Brosseau’s season average of .394. And Minnesota’s 79 runs over that span average out to more than a run an inning.
The hot bats have complemented a revived pitching staff, which held its opponents’ sticks to a weak .185 batting average over break.
The Gophers starting pitchers are a combined 8-0 over the streak, with Mike Kobow, Chadd Clarey and Kelly Werner each winning a pair of games.
Werner, who shut down Oral Roberts on Sunday, said the Gophers are finally getting down to playing the baseball they have been gunning for all season.
“We’ve gotten back to the fundamentals, and we’re executing our plays,” the left-hander said.
Coach John Anderson knew the time would come for his team to roll off a stretch of wins. He said before break, the Gophers were playing well but not putting the pitching, hitting and fielding together at the same time.
Anderson said he’s pleased with the way his players have come together after a slow start to nail down all three facets of the game.
But the timing of the hot streak isn’t something that surprises the veteran coach.
“It usually takes 20 or 25 games for our team to gain an identity and figure out who we are,” Anderson said. “It’s not uncommon.”
That newfound identity and improved play — which started with a sweep of Michigan State last weekend — has vaulted the Gophers to the top of the Big Ten.
Minnesota now prepares to head outside to Siebert Field, and back to conference play, for a four-game series with Ohio State this weekend.
But before that, it’s back to classes where the Gophers will have to listen to stories from friends who went on spring break.
But this time around, the players will have a story of their own to share: an undefeated, nine-win break.
“I’ll take this over a week of fun in Cancun any day,” Werner said. “We’re just playing really good ball right now.”

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