19-1 pounding is tough way for baseball to end year

by Sarah Mitchell

PALO ALTO, Calif. — It was Uncle Joe being imprisoned for grand theft auto or little Jimmy being brought into the world just five months after Mom and Dad were married.
Much like deeply buried family history, embarrassment was the feeling surrounding the Gophers baseball team’s 19-1 loss against Stanford, fifth-seeded Minnesota’s second and final loss in the West region.
No one in Minnesota’s baseball family wanted to accept and openly discuss Friday’s loss at Sunken Field, a defeat that ended the team’s season and the collegiate careers of two of its players. Most preferred to torture themselves mentally with the inevitable.
“I thought Stanford was very focused from the first pitch of the game, and they were a very determined team,” Gophers coach John Anderson said. “I thought they probably played more to their ability level. We probably played the poorest game of the season.”
The shock of being dominated made it hard to consider a record-setting season. First baseman Robb Quinlan and right fielder Craig Selander battled for the school’s single-season home run record, a record which Quinlan now holds with 25. Left fielder Mark Groebner’s 80 RBIs are a single-season school record. The team recorded 45 wins, the most in its history.
The season also resulted in Minnesota’s first Big Ten title since 1992. Its first appearance in the NCAA regionals since 1994 ended, however, with a thud.
Minnesota’s play resembled that seen in a youth tee-ball league. The Gophers committed six errors and struggled to put even one run on the board.
The only highlight was Quinlan’s fifth-inning home run off Chad Hutchinson, the Cardinal’s starting pitcher Friday and starting quarterback for the past two seasons. But Quinlan’s home run was not timely, as the Gophers already faced an 11-run deficit.
Dan McGrath took to the mound first for the Gophers, but he was replaced by senior Jason Dobis in the second inning. No Minnesota pitcher established any consistency, as pitching coach Mike Dee went to the bullpen five more times after bringing in Dobis.
“We couldn’t buy a run (Thursday against Loyola Marymount), we couldn’t buy a hit, and we get a ton of them (Friday),” Stanford head coach Mark Marquess said. “And the balls we didn’t hit well fell.”
Top-seeded Stanford was struggling offensively entering the Minnesota game. The Cardinal had lost its previous five games — two against USC, two against Washington and one in the regional against Loyola Marymount.
“They were determined and obviously they had a five-game losing streak; they are not used to that around here,” Anderson said. “I think we were the recipients of some of the tough luck they have had recently.
“We have had a lot of good things happen to us in the last month, so sometimes those things can even out and go in the other direction, and I think that was part of it.”
But Marquess said the losing streak was more of a personal issue.
“We weren’t out to show anybody,” Marquess said. “We were out to hopefully prove something to ourselves; to play like we have played most of the year.”
Long Beach State, which defeated Alabama in the title game, will join Miami, USC, Florida State, Louisiana State, Florida (which beat Illinois in the title game in South region I), Mississippi State and Arizona State this coming weekend in Omaha, Neb., for the College World Series.
The Crimson Tide’s absence might be considered as a step backward for the program, as they were the runner-up in last year’s CWS.
“I am really proud of this team, as much as any team, if not more, than any we have had here,” Alabama head coach Jim Wells said. “And I am sorry they didn’t do better.”
Anderson hopes he won’t have to apologize for his team failing to qualify for the College World Series next season. After losing several position players from last year and it’s top four pitchers, Minnesota was inexperienced heading into the season and even more raw in tournament play.
“I think from where we were at the end of last season to where we are today in terms of the progress we have made, not just the wins and the losses, but in a lot of different areas, I am proud of our team,” Anderson said. “I think we have accomplished a lot.”
But youth can no longer be used as an excuse next year.
“I think this experience here will be a good eye-opener for our players,” Anderson said. “I think this will surely help us in that regard, and I think it will be a lot easier to motivate them next fall after this game. I don’t think they will be reading their scrapbooks too much.”