Minnesota prepares for games against Big East

The Gophers will play against three of the conference’s elite teams.

by Aleutian Calabay

Coming off a successful series last weekend in Fort Myers, Fla., the Minnesota baseball team will look to continue its progress in the Big Ten/Big East challenge. After taking two out of three games âÄî including two shutouts âÄî against Akron to open the season, the Gophers now return to St. Petersburg, Fla., for the interconference tournament. Minnesota will start the weekend by taking on St. JohnâÄôs on Friday, Connecticut on Saturday and Louisville on Sunday. âÄúItâÄôs another opportunity to get back on the baseball field and learn more about our team playing against one of the top conferences in the country, and we would like to come out with braggerâÄôs rights at the end,âÄù Minnesota head coach John Anderson said. The GophersâÄô pitching staff appeared to be in charge last weekend against Akron. Being held to a strict pitch count, the Gophers showed how deep their pitching staff can be, with five pitchers combining for two shutouts; already two more than the entire 2009 season. âÄúWe felt coming into this year that we had depth and quality on the mound,âÄù Anderson said. âÄúOnce we start playing on the weekends and weekdays, weâÄôre going to need all the pitching we can find, so weâÄôre going to continue to try that pitching staff.âÄù The Minnesota bats struggled at times last weekend, but much of last seasonâÄôs power is gone, including Matt Nohelty, Derek McCallum and Eric Decker who totaled 169 runs scored and 142 RBIs in 2009. The offense is also expected to have a slow start due to the GophersâÄô inexperience. Minnesota only has two seniors on its roster this season and had 13 players take the field for the first time in a regular season game against Akron. âÄúJust getting out there and getting more reps is really what itâÄôs going to take to get [hitting] going,âÄù sophomore second baseman AJ Pettersen said. âÄúWeâÄôre going to try to get more contact and hit the ball on a line.âÄù The Gophers will need all the hitting they can get as they face a tough lineup of teams this weekend. They will be facing three of the top four teams in the Big East Preseason coaches poll, with Louisville predicted to finish first, Connecticut third and St. JohnâÄôs fourth. The Red Storm is coming off a sweep of New Orleans last weekend, including a 31-6 dominating effort Sunday. Louisville has also started the season strong with four consecutive victories, most recently a 7-2 win over Moorhead State. Connecticut is yet to play this season, but had a solid 2009 season where the Huskies finished with a record of 36-24, going to the Big East title game where they fell to Louisville. While Akron played well last weekend, the Big East is expected to provide a bigger challenge for the Gophers, who will need their pitching staff to have another strong weekend of performances. Their batters getting some timely hits this weekend would help, too.