Minnesota wins first conference series

Redshirt Sophomore Tim Shannon pitches the ball at Siebert Field on Saturday afternoon against Penn State.

Liam James Doyle

Redshirt Sophomore Tim Shannon pitches the ball at Siebert Field on Saturday afternoon against Penn State.

Ben Gotz

After a messy first inning on Sunday, the Gophers were in danger of letting their first sweep of the Big Ten season slip away.
 
Missed blocks and miscues in the field allowed Penn State to score three first-inning runs, but the Gophers (16-19, 6-9 Big Ten) responded with six runs in the bottom of the inning — taking all three games from the Nittany Lions 6-1, 8-1 and 9-5.
 
“It was huge,” redshirt senior catcher Matt Halloran said. “We have to get back and climb the standings a little bit, and this is a team we definitely have to beat.”
 
Friday, starting pitcher Ben Meyer’s performance earned him a victory for the second consecutive weekend, allowing one run in seven innings of work. He finished his outing with a strikeout, pounding his glove and releasing a shout of joy.
 
“I just tried to build off last weekend, and I think it worked,” Meyer said. “I was definitely getting ahead of my fastball, and that’s my base pitch.”
 
The Gophers gave Meyer an early lead, scoring three runs in the first two innings. Minnesota’s first two batters each singled and got around the bases in the first inning, and leadoff hitter Dan Motl recorded another hit in the second inning to drive in another run.
 
But the game remained close until the bottom of the eighth inning, when a three-run home run from the bat of redshirt sophomore Jordan Smith put the Gophers ahead by plenty.
 
On Saturday, the Gophers benefited from another strong start on the mound — this time from redshirt sophomore Tim Shannon. Shannon lasted one out into the seventh inning, giving up one run on five hits and striking out four. 
 
“[He] was great,” redshirt senior shortstop Michael Handel said. “[He] attacked the zone, [and] had all three pitches working for him. He just got ahead of all the batters, and when he does that, [with] all three pitches that he has, it makes him a lot harder to hit.”
 
The Gophers backed up their pitcher at the plate, scoring eight runs off of 13 hits. Handel led the way, going 4-for-5 with a three-run homer in the fourth inning that gave Minnesota a 5-0 lead.
 
Though freshman pitcher Fred Manke started his first collegiate game Sunday, missed plays in the field put the Gophers behind early.
 
“I think it was just a lack of focus,” Halloran said. “Fred went out there, first Big Ten start, first start ever, and … he pounded the zone, and he was making pitches.
They were hitting just soft balls, and we didn’t make some plays.”
 
But after the Gophers’ 11 at-bat response in the first, Minnesota was able to settle down in the field, blanking the Nittany Lions for the next four innings.
 
“For Fred to start his first game the way he did, rough first inning and respond the way he did, he handled that like he was a junior,” head coach John Anderson said.
“I think we found a young pitcher today.”
 
The Gophers’ bats added three more runs in the third and fourth innings, enough for the team to hold on to its first Big Ten series victory of the season.
 
“We needed them bad,” redshirt junior pitcher Jordan Jess said. “I think all three of these were must-wins for us.”