Baseball rips Northwestern, earns Big Ten trip

Sarah Mitchell

EVANSTON, Ill. — The Gophers baseball team might have played its final conference series of the 1998 season over the weekend at Northwestern, but in a sense the three-month-old season has just begun.
With a 14-0 drubbing of the Wildcats on Friday, the Gophers secured a place in the Big Ten tournament next weekend at Illinois. Making it into the tournament is especially satisfying for Minnesota, as the Gophers have missed the cut the last two years.
“What was good about (Friday) was that we still had to win one game this weekend to get into the Big Tens definitely,” pitcher Dan McGrath said. “(Friday) probably had to be one of the best games we’ve had all year, in terms of our hitting, fielding and pitching.”
Minnesota (42-13 overall, 19-9 in the Big Ten) needed to escape Evanston with only one win, but the team refused to settle for the minimum, winning games two and three by scores of 4-0 and 4-2. Although the Gophers dropped Sunday’s game 9-6, they will enter the four-team tournament as a No. 2 seed, scheduled to face Ohio State or Indiana on Thursday.
The Gophers put runs on the board early in all four games, and never had to play the come-from-behind role in any of the victories. Minnesota produced three first-inning runs in each of the first three games and two first-inning runs in game four, on lead-off home runs by infielders Robb Quinlan and Matt Scanlon.
Although Minnesota pitchers were done in by control problems on Sunday — including a wild pitch by reliever Kelly Werner on a pitch-out play in the sixth inning that allowed a run to score — Northwestern (27-26, 10-18) provided decent competition. The Wildcats were hitting .315 and their pitching staff had an ERA of 6.55.
“I don’t think they’re that bad of a team,” infielder Mark DeVore said, “but our pitching has been so good.”
Minnesota’s pitching staff continued to deny its bullpen any work until Sunday. As in the Michigan State series a week ago, three Gophers starters — Ben Birk (7-2), Dan McGrath (9-2) and Brad Pautz (5-3) — earned complete-game victories.
“We are throwing more strikes and letting the hitters get themselves out, rather than trying to finesse them all the time,” McGrath said.
Through the first 23 innings of the series, the trio combined to surrender only two runs. In his performance on Friday, Birk shut out the Wildcats, allowing only two hits while striking out nine.
The Gophers will travel to Illinois this weekend to face a different kind of pressure. In conference games, players have the luxury of knowing that even if they lose, they will still suit up and take the field the next day. But in the double-elimination Big Ten tournament, the Gophers must perform well if they want to continue the season a week later in the NCAA tournament.
“What it comes down to is that you have to win,” McGrath said, “so I think we’ll take it as a one-game thing. We’ll worry about the second game of the tournament the next day.”
The Big Tens couldn’t come at a better time for Minnesota. The Gophers come in riding a hot streak, with a healthy bullpen and offense. Quinlan belted four more home runs over the weekend, boosting his team-leading total to 23. Other Minnesota hitters are stepping up and showing some power as well, including right fielder Craig Selander, who has 21 home runs on the season, and Scanlon, who has hit three dingers in the last eight games to push his count to six.
More importantly, the Gophers are playing solid baseball on the road, winning nine of their last ten away from home.
While getting into the tournament is no longer a question, batting orders, defensive lineups and especially pitching rotations are still up in the air. Anderson said Birk is the likely starter on Thursday, but the bullpen use, if necessary, is dependent upon the competition sitting in the dugout across the diamond.
“It’s all situational, it’s purely a game of chess in who you want to throw,” McGrath said. “But when it comes down to the games next week, each team is going to throw its No. 1 pitcher.
“It will be a battle of depth — whoever has the deepest pen — because all of those teams can hit.”

Quinlan 17 8 9 9
Scanlon 16 4 7 1
Selander 16 4 4 5
Grubner 15 4 2 4
Horton 12 1 1 2
Arlt 14 1 3 2
R. Brousseau 12 2 4 4
Devore 7 0 1 0
M. Brousseau 7 1 1 1
Negen 7 1 0 0
Beaulieu 3 0 0 0
LaRue 0 1 0 0
Egan 1 1 1 0
TOTALS 124 30 32 30