12th-inning rally helps U get split

Sarah Mitchell

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — The once-popular TV show “Three’s Company” was never the same following Suzanne Somers’ resignation. The show tried to go on by introducing new characters, but never regained its wide audience appeal.
Somers’ departure parallels the way Minnesota’s baseball team has played the past two weekends. Ever since the team’s sweep of Iowa the first weekend in April, the Gophers have yet to put together a complete game.
Minnesota (27-11 overall, 9-7 in the Big Ten) has been missing one or more parts of its three’s company — offense, defense and pitching — and again failed to play to its potential in a four-game road split with Illinois this weekend.
“We’ve got to put together a whole game,” catcher Jeremy Negen said. “It would be nice to get one game where we play all three parts for an entire game. We played in (Illinois’) park, which is a factor. I think we’re happy with the split.
Pitcher Ben Birk, who re-emerged from the bullpen after being plagued by a shoulder injury, said that as soon as the team solidifies all sides of the ball, the rest of the Big Ten will be in trouble.
“As soon as we all get on the same page and get rolling, we’ll be fine,” Birk said.
When and if that will happen is still in question.
This weekend, the Gophers’ defense was the most comparable to Somers’ absence from the show. Usually a stable part of Minnesota’s game, the team’s faltering gloves might have been the difference in the series outcome.
Overall, the team committed 11 errors, including four in a one-run loss Friday. By fielding the ball more cleanly and making better throws, the Gophers realistically could have swept the first-place Illini (25-16, 11-5).
As it turned out, Minnesota needed extra-inning heroics in both of its wins just to salvage a split.
In game one of Saturday’s doubleheader, Birk relieved Brad Pautz after the Gophers’ starter spotted Illinois six early runs. Birk pitched four-plus innings of shutout ball as Minnesota rallied for a 10-6 win.
Pitcher Dan McGrath was then called upon for double-duty on Sunday. McGrath suffered his first loss of the season Saturday, although he only surrendered five hits and two runs in a 2-0 loss.
McGrath came into Sunday’s game in the 10th inning and held the Illini scoreless until Negen’s first career home run in the 12th inning produced an 11-9 win.
“He has kept us in every game,” Negen said of McGrath. “He is a fun guy to catch. He’s so easy-going. When you go out to talk to him on the mound, he’s joking around. It makes things easier. If you make a bad play, he always comes to the dugout with a positive attitude. He’s very uplifting.”
Although Minnesota would have liked to have won the series, McGrath and Co. at least kept the team’s hopes of a Big Ten tournament berth alive.
The Gophers need to achieve at least as much in next weekend’s home series against Indiana.
“They had to deal with a lot of adversity and momentum going back and forth during (Sunday’s) game,” Gophers coach John Anderson said. “They were on the road and put up a battle. They didn’t panic when Illinois came back and tied up the game. They kept playing, and played with confidence. That’s a good sign.”
But the best sign would have been the return of all three baseball fundamentals on the same weekend.

Gophers hitting statistics (4 games)

Player AB R H RBI
Arlt 16 3 3 2
Scanlon 18 4 9 4
Quinlan 16 5 7 3
Selander 15 1 3 1
Groebner 16 3 5 4
Horton 6 2 2 0
R. Brosseau 15 2 6 4
M. Brosseau 8 2 3 0
Devore 6 0 1 0
Negen 9 1 1 2
Holthaus 5 0 0 1
Egan 6 2 1 0
Beaulieu 1 0 0 0
Team 139 25 41 21