Gophers bumble into Big Ten Tournament

by Matt Perkins

Minnesota’s baseball team is in unfamiliar territory at this year’s Big Ten Tournament, and in more ways than one.

For the first time in four years, the Gophers are not a No. 1 seed and the tournament is not being held at Siebert Field.

Now, there is confusion as to how the team should feel entering today’s first-round game against third-seeded Iowa in Champaign, Ill.

Senior starting pitcher Matt Loberg said he knows this tournament is going to be a whole new experience compared with his first three.

“This year’s Big Ten Tournament is just going to have a different feel,” Loberg said. “We aren’t a one or two seed this time, and what goes around comes around.”

The Gophers had been walking around as the schoolyard bully at the Big Ten Tournament during the last three years, but now that the tables have turned, they no longer have the luxury of being passive-aggressive.

The Gophers lost 11 of their final 16 Big Ten games to end their regular season, adding to the urgency of their must-win situation.

They are looking for something in their favor heading into their game against Iowa after the Hawkeyes won the regular season series three games to one.

Experience could be the Gophers’ saving grace.

The 2005 Big Ten Tournament field consists of Illinois, Purdue, Michigan, Ohio State, Northwestern, Penn State and Iowa.

Iowa is making its first trip back to the tournament since 2002, so the experience factor gives the Gophers the upper hand, Loberg said.

“We’re at an advantage because we have been in the tournament a lot,” Loberg said. “Iowa has been watching from the sidelines and are now thrown into the mix. They are going to be an early test.”

The Gophers have been tested all year long, playing in more one-run ballgames – 18, to be exact – than coach John Anderson can ever remember, he said.

Minnesota has lost 11 of those 18, with the last three being consecutive one-run losses during the weekend at Ohio State to close out the regular season.

So the Gophers start the tournament in a hole. But Anderson thinks that hole could be much deeper.

“I think as a six seed we probably got a break playing Iowa,” Anderson said. “It seems to me that (fourth seed) Michigan and (top seed) Illinois are the two teams being targeted right now. I don’t know if anyone really wants to play them.”

Junior center fielder Tony Leseman disagrees. He said the Gophers are still the odds-on favorite to win the tournament.

Which is a little more familiar territory.

“We think we are the team to beat,” Leseman said. “But maybe other teams don’t think that and that can be used to our advantage. We want to show them why we are three-time defending (regular-season) champions.”

Five named All-Big Ten

The Gophers put five players on All-Big Ten teams, the Big Ten announced Tuesday.

Senior David Hrncirik led the way, being named first-team All-Big Ten. He batted .350 on the season with a team-high 28 stolen bases.

Loberg and junior shortstop Matt Fornasiere were named to the second-team All-Big Ten.

Junior first baseman Andy Hunter and sophomore reliever John Gaub were third-team selections.