Gophers trip on road, lose three of four to Wolverines

Sarah Mitchell

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Young baseball players are supposed to have an edge over older ones in terms of speed and reflexes. That’s why professional ballclubs offer high pay to the guys who opt not to play college ball and sign out of high school.
But this weekend might have put a dent in that theory, as the Gophers baseball team (25-9, 7-5 in the Big Ten) dropped three out of four games at Michigan (15-16-1, 5-7). Head coach John Anderson said the combination of youth and competing in unfamiliar territory played a role in the Gophers’ struggles.
After a successful start to the season, however, excuses aren’t what the team hopes to achieve.
“We’re young, but there are a lot of young guys who have experience with winning,” senior Mark Groebner said. “We’re 25-9.”
Heading into the series it looked as though Minnesota had more than a decent chance of leaving Ann Arbor with more than a split. The Gophers had won their past six Big Ten games and the Wolverines had failed to live up to lofty preseason expectations.
But two teams going in opposite directions ended up trading places, as Minnesota could only fend off a sweep with a 6-3 Sunday win.
“This team was predicted to be really good and they played a lot of road games, which can add to your losing column,” Groebner said. “Anything can happen in a weekend. You can say on paper we should’ve done better because of our record compared to their record.
“But that’s the funny thing about baseball. On any one weekend one team can be hot and one can be cold. And when you put two and two together, it can be really ugly.”
Unlike last weekend’s sweep over Iowa, the Gophers’ attack could be classified as hideous. The team’s pitching was adequate, as Minnesota squeezed six and two-thirds innings of work out of its rested relief corps. Relief pitching was especially vital in the second game on Saturday, when starter Kelly Werner was pulled in the second inning.
Even with fresh arms, the Gophers could not tame the Wolverines’ offense. Werner alone surrendered two hits and four runs, three of which were earned, to the vicious Wolverines offense. Werner’s control betrayed him, as he walked five batters. Michigan won that game 7-2, proving walks are more lethal than hits.
“Kelly didn’t manage his emotions very well Saturday,” Anderson said. “You can’t teach experience.”
With the exception of Dan McGrath, who got the win Sunday, none Minnesota’s starters appeared to calm down and take control of the game. Friday starter Jason Dobis said there was an uncomfortable feeling among the pitchers while they were on the mound.
“Werner felt really uncomfortable,” Dobis said. It was hard to stay focused.”
McGrath fared the best on the weekend. He started out shakily but eventually found his groove, allowing 11 hits and three earned runs in a nine-inning complete game. With the win, McGrath improved to 6-0 on the year.
The Wolverines offense combined for 41 hits in the series. Every player in their lineup, from the lead-off batter to the No. 9 hitter had good trips to the plate.
“Their bottom of the lineup was killing us at times. Even that scrappy little nine-hitter, the shortstop,” Groebner said.
The player Groebner referred to is 5-foot-10-inch Scott Tousa. The freshman caused some damage by going 5-for-10 at the plate, including two doubles.
“They did a good job scouting us,” Minnesota junior Matt Brosseau said. “Our scouting report says we don’t walk a lot of guys, and they came out swinging the bat.”
Extra base hits were scarce for the Gophers in the first three games of the series. At that point Minnesota’s offense had managed only two doubles, both in the second game on Saturday.
On Sunday, the Gophers’ offense offered an abundance of extra base hits. First baseman Robb Quinlan led the way, going 3-for-4, including two home runs. Quinlan was not the only Gopher to erupt at the plate during Sunday’s victory.
The game’s outcome was in doubt until the top of the sixth inning when Craig Selander and Groebner led off with back-to-back triples. Designated hitter Adam Horton followed with a single to score Groebner. Although the scoring in the sixth inning would end there, the rally was still the Gophers’ best offense.
Ultimately, Sunday’s outburst only served to underscore the team’s off-and-on offense. Minnesota, which fell into second place in the Big Ten, needs to start hitting consistently if it is going to win its series against first-place Illinois next weekend.
“If we can hit, we can win any game,” Groebner said.

Gophers hitting statistics (4 games)

Player AB R H RBI
Arlt 13 1 3 1
Scanlon 15 2 2 3
Quinlan 14 3 3 3
Selander 16 1 5 3
Groebner 12 1 4 1
Horton 10 2 3 1
R. Brosseau 10 0 0 0
Devore 6 0 0 1
Negen 10 2 3 0
Holthaus 4 0 0 0
M. Brosseau 5 1 3 0
Egan 1 1 0 0
Team 115 14 26 13