With Twins in Toronto, Gophers open Big Ten at Target Field

Minnesota took two-of-three from conference foe Purdue.

Purdue’s Stephen Talbott scores as Sophomore Kurt Schlangen attempts to tag him out during a doubleheader Saturday at Target Field.  The Gophers won the second game of the day, claiming two of three games in the series against the Boilermakers.

Joe Michaud-Scorza

Purdue’s Stephen Talbott scores as Sophomore Kurt Schlangen attempts to tag him out during a doubleheader Saturday at Target Field. The Gophers won the second game of the day, claiming two of three games in the series against the Boilermakers.

by Derek Wetmore

As soon as it became clear that the Minnesota baseball teamâÄôs home slate of games was in jeopardy following the collapse of the Metrodome, Minnesota Twins President Dave St. Peter called head coach John Anderson to offer up his 1one-year-old facility, Target Field.

St. Peter told Anderson he hadnâÄôt yet looked at the schedule to see if it was a feasible move âÄî the Twins would need priority with their season opening the same weekend.

But as luck would have it, not only were the Twins on the road for their season opener, they were out of town for all four of MinnesotaâÄôs scheduled Big Ten home series.

So for the secondstraight year, the Gophers (10-9overall, 2-1 Big Ten) were the first team to play at Target Field, and they took two-of-three from Purdue in the first weekend of conference play.

Coming off a strong end to last weekâÄôs road trip, the Gophers offense didnâÄôt miss a beat Friday.

After struggling to find consistency through much of the rain-shortened and road-heavy nonconference slate, Minnesota scored nine runs to close the West Ccoast road trip. They followed that up Friday by scoring nine again and beating Purdue 9-5.

The Gophers got first baseman Nick OâÄôShea back in time for the Big Ten opener, and the slugger drove in a run in MinnesotaâÄôs six-run fifth inning Friday to bury the Boilermakers.

âÄúItâÄôs great,âÄù OâÄôShea said of being back in the lineup for the first time since March 13.

âÄúObviously itâÄôs always hard missing time,; being away and not being able to go full-bore and everything, but IâÄôve been working into the last week and half or so, and it was nice to get back out there on the field today.âÄù

Purdue came in as arguably the top offensive team in the Big Ten, but sophomore pitcher TJ Oakes limited the Boilermakers to three runs on nine hits through six innings Friday and Austin Lubinsky went 4 2/3 innings giving up only one run.

Oakes admitted after the game that he didnâÄôt have the command he would have liked, and FridayâÄôs cold weather may have played a factor. He threw 100 pitches, which Anderson said was the goal. He added that he would like to stretch out all his starters past the 100-pitch count soon.

MinnesotaâÄôs lead was once very comfortable at 8-0, but Oakes, Tom Windle and Billy Soule struggled to get outs in the middle innings, giving up three runs in the sixth and two in the seventh.

In the early game Saturday the Gophers were stymied by Joe Haase, and could not stop PurdueâÄôs offense as they were steamrolled 7-0.

Haase went the full nine innings to earn a complete game shutout, and Minnesota starter Phil Isaksson was tagged with the loss after giving up five earned runs in 4 2/3 innings.

The Gophers only mustered seven hits and had as many strikeouts as Haase mixed all of the pitches in his arsenal.

The one positive from the drubbing was that Anderson finally got a chance to use some pieces of his bullpen that havenâÄôt seen much action this year.

DJ Snelten threw 2 1/3 innings, and Tim Ryan, Luke Rasmussen and Cullen Sexton each threw two-thirds2/3 of an inning.

In the late game, some late-inning tension gave way to a collective sigh of relief.

The tensest moment of the late game Saturday came when relief pitcher Billy Soule hit a Boilermaker batter to load the bases with two outs in the and offensive star Cameron Perkins coming to the plate. Perkins was 6-for-11 in the series to that point, but Soule got him to ground into a fielderâÄôs choice to end the threat.

âÄúI love coming in in those situations and kind of thrive off of that stuff,âÄù Soule said.

Most of the 4,571 fans at SaturdayâÄôs double-header had already left by that point, as shadows started to canvas the Target Field seats.

Minnesota turned in several highlight-reel-worthy plays on the weekend, including two OâÄôShea diving stops and a glove flip by second baseman Matt Puhl to start a double play.

 âÄúThe difference on the weekend in my mind was that we played outstanding team defense. When you can do that and avoid bringing extra guys to the plate I think that gives you an opportunity to win. I thought we played outstanding on defense,âÄù Anderson said.

 âÄúYou canâÄôt have a championship team unless you can play defense and play well up the middle, and weâÄôve done that so far,âÄù Anderson said.

One particularly strong defensive contributor was shortstop AJ Petterson, who also extended his hitting streak to 22 games with a hit in each of the first two games and three in the finale.