Gophers baseball opens season Friday

Minnesota won its first regular season Big Ten title since 2010 last year.

Gophers pitcher Toby Anderson throws the ball against Kansas State at Siebert Field on April 28, 2015.

Alex Tuthill-Preus, Daily File P

Gophers pitcher Toby Anderson throws the ball against Kansas State at Siebert Field on April 28, 2015.

Tommy Sletten

Minnesota’s baseball team is back, fresh off of a Big Ten Championship, and ready to take on the 2017 campaign by storm.

The Gophers were recently picked to finish sixth in the Big Ten, but the adversity is nothing new.

Last season Minnesota finished at the top of the conference even though the preseason polls didn’t place it within the top six.

While the Gophers did lose some key players like Dan Motl, Austin Athmann and Matt Fiedler, some reliable names still remain.

Senior right handed pitcher Toby Anderson will headline the pitching staff, giving the Gophers experience and leadership.

Anderson tallied a 7-1 record on the mound last season with a 3.32 ERA and was named the team’s Most Improved Player.

The Gophers not only succeeded on the field, but continued a tradition of excellence as student-athletes.

“It was very important for me to come to this school,” Anderson said. “I wanted to be a Gopher, absolutely, but the academics made me very excited. It’s a Big Ten university, and the opportunities for a full time job [are] huge.”

The team has had 14 straight seasons with a team GPA above 3.0, headlined by senior outfielder Jordan Smith and senior catcher Matt Stemper.

Smith, who was an Academic All-Big Ten selection last season, worked overtime last season as one of only two team members to appear in 57-plus games.

Minnesota lost its top two batters this season, but retains junior Micah Coffey, who hit .333 last season and tied for first on the team in RBIs with 42.

Coffey was recently named to the Big Ten “Players to Watch” list with left-handed pitcher Lucas Gilbreath and shortstop Terrin Vavra.

Gilbreath did not allow a run in 12 of his appearances last season and held a team-low ERA of 1.36.

The junior will start in the team’s first game of the season Friday.

Vavra returns to help power Minnesota’s bats. The sophomore hit .358 last season and had six doubles, two triples and a homerun.

The Gophers will find new challenges and bring in nine new faces, but will still be guided by head coach John Anderson.

Anderson won his 10th Big Ten Championship with Minnesota last season and helped lead his team to a 36-22 record.

It was not all smiles for Minnesota last year, however, as pitching coach Todd Oakes passed away at age 55 after a long battle with leukemia.

Both Anderson and Oakes’ players had nothing but good memories of their former mentor and leader and said the legacy he left behind will positively impact the program for years to come.

“There’s evidence of him every single day around here,” John Anderson said. ”Whether it’s in how we prepare and how we work. As good as a pitching coach as he was, he was even better as a person.”