Minnesota sweeps Penn State at home

The Gophers got a strong effort from all three of their starting pitchers.

Minnesota sweeps Penn State at home

Betsy Helfand

Minnesota’s starting pitchers shined in their first weekend under the lights at new Siebert Field.

The Gophers used three stellar performances from Alec Crawford, Ben Meyer and Neal Kunik en route to a crucial series sweep over Penn State.

Minnesota played its first night game in Siebert Field history Friday, and Crawford led the Gophers to a 2-1 victory, pitching eight innings of one-run ball while setting a career-high with nine strikeouts.

Minnesota came into the weekend trailing Penn State in the conference standings, and Crawford said after Friday’s game the team needed to win all three games.

Not to be outdone, Meyer pitched eight scoreless innings, striking out eight batters, and Kunik followed suit with seven scoreless innings and nine strikeouts in Saturday’s doubleheader.

The Gophers won 4-0 and 12-0, respectively, during the two-game set Saturday.

“It was big to get that first game on Friday,” Meyer said. “It kind of set the tone for the weekend.”

Minnesota’s three starters all set career-highs in strikeouts over the weekend.

“We pitched great from start to finish, all three games,” Meyer said. “We were throwing strikes [and] making guys earn their way onto base. We were getting our off-speed [pitches] over, which was a big thing for us.”

The Gophers also strung together another solid weekend at the plate, something shortstop Michael Handel said was a byproduct of the performances on the mound.

“I think … one reason why our offense did so well today is because of our pitching,” he said. “They got us back in the dugout real quick.”

Minnesota broke Saturday’s first game open in the second inning when second baseman Connor Schaefbauer hit a bases-clearing double.

In the second game, Minnesota set the tone early, scoring seven runs in the first inning.

“That’s what happens when you have good at-bats up and down the lineup,” head coach John Anderson said. “It gives you some good fortune as well.”

Minnesota struggled with both pitching and defense last weekend in a series loss to Iowa, and Anderson said he knew his team would pitch better this weekend.

That was evident from the start of this weekend’s series as Crawford recorded a quality start Friday, despite loading the bases on a single and two walks in the second inning. He worked his way out of that jam and was solid the rest of the way.

“He never flinched and just kept executing pitches,” Anderson said. “That’s the whole game right there, that inning.”

The Gophers’ bats were mostly held in check Friday, which Anderson said was more a testament to Penn State’s pitcher, Tim Dunn, than to the way the Gophers performed.

Dunn now sits at 2-1 with a 1.40 ERA, having given up just six earned runs all season.

Minnesota freshman Austin Athmann hit his first-career home run off Dunn in the second inning, and Mark Tatera hit a sacrifice fly to drive in the game-winning run in the fourth inning of the pitchers’ duel.

The Gophers moved up in the conference standings with the sweep.

“It was big to take three and kind of put ourselves back in a better situation to make the Big Ten tournament in a situation that’s a little more favorable for us,” Meyer said.

The Gophers have a break from conference play with three midweek games and a series against Florida State — one of the nation’s top teams — before their next Big Ten series.