Final nonconference game pits Minnesota against SDSU

With Big Ten play on the horizon, the Gophers will tango with the Jackrabbits on Wednesday.

Samuel Gordon

Minnesota’s proverbial spring training is almost over.

The Gophers will conclude the nonconference portion of their schedule Wednesday against South Dakota State University.

The first half of the season was full of ups and downs, but it served as a fantastic learning experience for a relatively young roster.

“It wasn’t a normal stretch by any means,” head coach John Anderson said, “but you try and control the controllable.”

Early-season injuries have limited third baseman Kyle Geason, outfielder Trip Schultz, and No. 2 starter Tom Windle.

As a result, Anderson played guys out of position and altered Minnesota’s lineup on many occasions.

“We’ve tried to get the healthy guys out there in spots where we think they can have an impact,” Anderson said. “It’s not a sprint; it’s a marathon. There’s a lot of time for us to continue to get better.”

The team’s freshmen have made strides, and Anderson said he will count on them to produce during the Big Ten season.

Redshirt freshman Michael Handel has started every game at shortstop this year, and freshman pitchers Ben Meyer, Ty McDevitt and Jordan Jess have worked as starters and relievers.

“It’s been an adjustment,” Meyer said of the freshmen, “but we’re coming around here. … I think we’ll be ready for the Big Ten.”

There’s little doubt the Gophers (12-13) will be able to pitch well enough to compete — they’re second in the conference in team ERA (3.33), opponent batting average (.247) and strikeouts (154).

“If you can pitch and play defense, you’re going to have a chance,” Anderson said. “That’s what we’ve been able to do consistently.”

Minnesota’s offense, on the other hand, has been sporadic at best.

The Gophers are 10th in the Big Ten in batting average (.248), slugging percentage (.327) and runs scored (95).

Anderson said the club needs to do a better job producing with runners in scoring position.

 Minnesota will have one more chance Wednesday to fine-tune other nuances against SDSU before opening a three-game set with Michigan on Friday.

Center fielder and leadoff hitter Troy Larson said the team has steadily improved and remained focused throughout the nonconference season.

“It’s good to have the so-called preseason,” he said, “but I think you have to take the same approach in the preseason that you’re going to take into the Big Ten season.”

The Gophers will need that approach to down the Jackrabbits (6-12-1).

SDSU lost its first eight games of the season but it has since shown improvement. The Jackrabbits most recently took three of four games from Northern Colorado.

Other Notes

Tyler Oakes, son of Gophers pitching coach Todd Oakes and older brother of Minnesota’s ace TJ Oakes, is now South Dakota State’s pitching coach.

Tyler Oakes played for Minnesota from 2006-09.