Baseball endures snub, draws LSU in regional

Anthony Maggio

On Monday afternoon, Minnesota baseball players, coaches and staff gathered to learn who they would draw and where they would play in the NCAA Regionals this weekend.

Most of the players and coaches felt the Gophers would draw a two or a three seed and be sent either to Notre Dame or Nebraska to meet their opponent.

Then the announcement was made. Minnesota, given a four seed, will play in Baton Rouge, La., against defending national champion LSU.

Upon hearing the seeding, the Gophers Jack Hannahan looked over his shoulder at his teammates and coach, chuckling softly. The rest of the team responded in a similar incredulous, yet subdued manner to the perceived snub.

Despite winning the Big Ten tournament last weekend, Minnesota received the lowest possible seed in its regional.

Ohio State, who the Gophers defeated in the tournament, received a two seed in its regional. Minnesota is the only team ranked in the top 25 by Baseball America to receive lower than a three seed.

“It’s disappointing that we weren’t a two or three seed,” pitcher Ben Birk said. “Especially having played so well the last couple of weeks of the season and winning the Big Ten tournament.”

Despite the low seeding and being pitted against the defending champion Tigers, the players remain in good spirits.

“I couldn’t think of a better time to go and play them,” Hannahan said. “We’re playing great baseball right now.”

The Gophers face a perennial power in LSU, led by college coaching great Stanley “Skip” Bertman.

Bertman has led the Tigers to five NCAA titles in the last 10 years, including last year’s college world series. This season – Bertman’s 18th – will be his last, however, as he is taking over as full-time Athletic Director at LSU.

“I’m going to have mixed emotions because I have a lot of respect for Skip,” Minnesota coach John Anderson said. “I’m not sure if I want to spoil his going away party, but we’re going to have to try to do that.”

Bertman led his squad to a 40-19-1 record this season, winning the SEC regular season title. The Tigers also boast three players on both the all-SEC first team and second team, including the SEC freshman of the year,
pitcher Lane Mestepey.

The Gophers are not intimidated by LSU’s accolades and are happy for the chance to perform on a national stage.

“On any given day, any team can beat any other team,” Birk said. “This is a great opportunity for our team and our program – to prove that we belong among the baseball elite.”

Anderson said Minnesota will also be battling a “hostile crowd” in Baton Rouge, as the Tigers’ average home attendance was 7,469 this season. The Gophers played in front of 1,277 fans against Big Ten tournament host Ohio State.

“It’s a great college baseball experience to be playing in front of seven or eight thousand people,” pitcher Mike Kobow said. “It will be a great time.”

The Gophers play their first game on Friday at 2 p.m.

The winner of the regional moves to the Super Regionals on June 1-3.