Pettersen stellar as Gophers win series opener

Chauncy Handran went seven strong and allowed just two runs. Derek McCallum extended his RBI streak to eight games. Kyle Knudson knocked in a pair of runs and went 2-for-4. But this was AJ PettersenâÄôs night. His stats at the plate tell part of the story: 3-for-3 with a triple, two RBIs and two runs scored. But they fall well short of describing the show he put on Friday evening at the Metrodome during MinnesotaâÄôs 7-5 win over Ohio State. âÄúAJ Pettersen was the difference-maker tonight for our team âÄì offensively, defensively [and on the bases],âÄù head coach John Anderson said of the redshirt freshman. âÄúHeâÄôs playing like a veteran; he sure didnâÄôt play like a first-year player.âÄù As Anderson suggested, the shortstop did it all. Out of the second slot in the order, he knocked the ball all over the park. After the No. 18 Buckeyes (21-6 overall, 2-2 Big Ten) jumped to a 1-0 lead in the top of the third, Pettersen knocked in freshman Justin Gominsky and senior Matt Nohelty with a triple that found the gap in right-center. He found himself on third for the second time in the game, but he wasnâÄôt about to be stranded again like he was in the first. A pitch in the dirt bounced just a few feet to Ohio State catcher Dan BurkhartâÄôs right and Pettersen bolted home without hesitation. HeâÄôd score again in the bottom of the seventh on a two-out single by catcher Kyle Knudson. But PettersenâÄôs true highlight reel was on defense. With two on and two out in the top of the fourth, Buckeyes shortstop Cory Rupert sent a ground ball back up the middle that looked destined for the outfield and an RBI base hit. Pettersen had other ideas. Moving to his left, he laid out and snagged the ball. With runners moving on contact, all Pettersen could do was flip the ball out of his glove to McCallum, who gathered it up and stepped on second to end the inning. Two innings later, with one out and a runner on first, Ohio StateâÄôs Justin Miller roped a single down the left field line. Gominsky picked it up and threw towards third but Michael Stephens was going to make it easily. Pettersen cut the ball off, turned and fired to second to catch Miller trying to sneak an extra bag out of the base hit. âÄúI saw the guy sneaking to third and I knew he was going to be safe for sure,âÄù Pettersen said of the play. âÄúSo I figured I might have a chance at second and sure enough. Derek was right there and made a great play on the pick and tag.âÄù The groundout that followed ended the inning, preventing the run on third from scoring, which surely would have had there been only one out. Handran got the ground balls when he needed them all night, none more important than the bouncer he forced in the top of the seventh. In what would prove to be his last inning of work, Handran hit a batter, then allowed three straight singles and a run. With the bases loaded and only one out, the Buckeyes seemed poised to eliminate MinnesotaâÄôs 4-2 lead, but Cory Kovanda hit a soft ground ball to McCallum, who sparked a 4-6-3 double play and keep the Gophers (15-8, 2-1) two runs clear. âÄúChauncy made a great pitch, a sinker down I think,âÄù Pettersen said. âÄúHe got the guy to roll over and Derek made a real good feed to me.âÄù Minnesota would cushion its lead with three runs in the bottom of the seventh and hung on despite the BuckeyesâÄô three-run answer in the top of the eighth to come away with the all-important first game of the newly-implemented three-game conference series. âÄúPercentage-wise it puts you in a good position,âÄù Anderson said. âÄúYou still have to come out and make plays and pitches and have good at-bats, but surely itâÄôs a lot easier to try to win the series 1-0 than 0-1.âÄù