Gophers take three of four, gain confidence with solid opening homestand

Minnesota played solid defense and showed progress offensively against Western Michigan.

First baseman Dan Olinger catches the ball to get an out against the Broncos on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, at the Metrodome.

Image by Amanda Snyder

First baseman Dan Olinger catches the ball to get an out against the Broncos on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, at the Metrodome.

by Drew Claussen

The Gophers will play at the Metrodome a lot in the coming weeks. This weekend, they gave their hometown fans a preview of what they can hope to expect during the long homestand.

Minnesota took three of four games from Western Michigan during its first home stand of the season. The Gophers won 7-1 on Friday, the teams split two games Saturday, and Minnesota won a 9-2 matinee Sunday.

“It was a good start for us,” head coach John Anderson said. “We got done what we wanted to get done here. … We really needed to make an adjustment here in our confidence level.”

The Gophers lost 14-0 and 14-1 to No. 6 ranked UCLA last weekend after winning their season opener against the Bruins.

Minnesota (4-3) will play 17 of its next 19 games under the Metrodome’s Teflon roof.

After trading runs in the first four innings Sunday, the Gophers broke it open in the fifth when senior third baseman Ryan Abrahamson launched a double to left field that plated a runner. Anderson said he thought the ball left the yard, but after a conference the umpires left Abrahamson on second base.

“I’ll defend [the umpire] — it’s not an easy call,” Anderson said. “It might have hit the top [of the wall] and came back, but I thought it hit the seat.”

Abrahamson went 2-for-4 with three runs batted in Sunday. Anderson said he was excited to see such production from a third baseman, which was a question mark entering the season.

Minnesota had a three-run lead after five innings. Senior leftfielder Andy Henkemeyer had one of the Gophers’ three doubles in the fifth.

“We made an adjustment at the plate [in the fifth],” Henkemeyer said. “We started seeing the ball deeper and hitting it to opposite field. That definitely turned it around.”

The Gophers scored five runs in the seventh to put the game out of reach.

Jordan Jess had the best game of his career on the mound Sunday. He went six innings, gave up one earned run on three hits and struck out seven. The innings and strikeouts were career highs.

“He came out of the bullpen sharp in the first inning and struck out the side,” Anderson said. “I thought that really set the tone.”

Jess said it felt good to be back pitching at the Dome after he got roughed up in his last outing against UCLA.

“Throwing five, six innings is what I want to do for most of the year,” Jess said.”

Minnesota’s three wins over the weekend came in blowout fashion, which Anderson said was encouraging.

“When we’ve been able to score five or more, you can see what the recipe’s going to be,” Anderson said. “I think we’re making some progress offensively compared to where we were at the end of last year.”

The Gophers also pitched and defended well. Western Michigan did not score more than two runs in any game, and the Gophers had only one error on the weekend.

“Our [defense] is always flawless,” Jess said. “They’re solid, so I’ve got to give them a lot of the credit.”