Following Sunday night’s loss to Wichita State, Gophers baseball coach John Anderson calmly commented on his team’s season.
“In many ways, we may have overachieved,” Anderson said.
Winning the Big Ten regular season title and hosting an NCAA regional were obvious achievements.
The Gophers came out on top in a conference that had four or five teams chasing the crown all season long.
But to find the true signs of overachievement, you have to look much deeper into Minnesota’s team. Entering the season, the Gophers had questions about many aspects of their team.
They were without a clear ace on their pitching staff, and they were uncertain who would provide offensive production in the middle of the order.
Both questions were slowly answered over the long season, and the results will prove essential if Minnesota is to build on this year’s success next season.
With pitcher Ben Birk battling through injuries all season, sophomore Mike Kobow emerged as the Gophers’ go-to guy on the hill.
Kobow went 9-2 on the season, including wins in the Big Ten tournament and NCAA regional.
If you asked Kobow before the season whether he was expecting this type of success, he might have laughed at you.
“I came into this year hoping to be a one or two guy out of relief, not to be the number one guy starting,” he said after downing Wichita State Friday night. “I’ve enjoyed my role this year, and I’ve been able to take advantage of the opportunities the coaches gave me at the beginning of the season.”
Next year Kobow will join a well-rested Birk, who came on strong, posting a 4-0 Big Ten mark, and medical redshirt Dan McGrath, who sat out the 2000 season, to form a very solid starting three.
On the offensive side of the ball, Minnesota saw several bright spots develop in the batters’ box.
Freshman Luke Appert and sophomore Jack Hannahan proved to be pure hitters at the college level.
Appert led the team with a .346 average as a designated hitter. Next season, Appert should be the Gophers’ everyday second baseman.
Hannahan led the team in hits (73), doubles (18) and triples (4). He also proved he could hit in the third spot in the order — the heart of the lineup.
Anderson hopes the additional year’s experience for Appert, Hannahan and the rest of the Gophers will help Minnesota’s run production — its biggest weakness in the postseason.
In the four losses that eliminated Minnesota from both the conference tourney and the NCAA regional, the Gophers scored just five runs.
“I don’t doubt we’ll be a better offensive team next year,” Anderson said.
With the end of the season comes the development of the young players. But it also brings the graduation of the veterans — and the possibility of losing others to the pros.
The Gophers will lose center fielder Mike Arlt, second baseman Mark Devore, starting pitchers Chadd Clarey and Kelly Werner, closer Brandon Kitzerow and others to graduation.
Junior shortstop Rick Brosseau will likely be drafted and might choose to turn professional.
But the biggest loss next season will be behind the plate. Catcher Jeremy Negen wasn’t an offensive power at the plate for the Gophers, but when it came to defense and calling the right pitch, Negen was as good as they come.
Anderson calls Negen a “gamer,” and said the biggest question about next year’s team will be who will take his spot at catcher.
“You could make an argument that he was our most valuable player by the way he handled our staff,” Anderson said. “He was silently one of our better players as the year unfolded.”
John R. Carter is the sports editor and welcomes comments at [email protected]