Baseball team gears up for Big Ten

Spring break has arrived at Minnesota, and for many University students that means sandy beaches and bright sunshine.
But not for the Gophers baseball team.
For them, spring break brings the beginning of the 2000 Big Ten season.
Minnesota (7-11) will kick off conference play this weekend with a trip to Ann Arbor to take on defending Big Ten champion Michigan.
Despite a tough nonconference season, in which the Gophers went up against teams with a combined 110-42 record, Minnesota coach John Anderson said his team is still ready to make a run at a Big Ten title.
“I don’t see any reason not to (think we can’t win the Big Ten),” Anderson said. “I’ve seen us play some pretty good baseball and seen us not play well. The big thing is consistency, and we need to correct that.”
The Gophers have plenty to work on if they want to improve. Anderson faulted both his batting and pitching for the early season stutters.
But most importantly, Anderson said, the Gophers’ fielding needs to improve. Minnesota has committed 35 errors to its opponents’ 23 thus far this year.
“If I’m disappointed in anything at this point, it’s our defense; I thought our defense would be better than it is now,” he said. “You can’t put together winning streaks unless you play good defense.”
Minnesota shortstop Rick Brosseau, who leads the team with a .397 average — but also has seven of those errors — admitted the Gophers didn’t get off to the strong start this season.
But he also said that doesn’t mean they won’t finish atop the conference.
“We have a good chance to contend for the Big Ten title,” Brosseau said. “We have a lot of talent. But it does take a little luck.”
That luck isn’t something the Gophers got a lot of during the nonconference season. Six of Minnesota’s 11 losses have been by three runs or less.
On the bright side, Anderson said he thinks those close games with strong teams have helped the Gophers get ready for Big Ten play.
“I don’t think we’ll run into any competition that is any better than the teams we’ve already played,” Anderson said. “Our players have been challenged in the preseason part of our schedule, and it has prepared them.”
Minnesota is among four teams Anderson said can contend for the conference crown. Ohio State, last year’s regular season champions, Illinois and Penn State join Minnesota as the best in the Big Ten.
“Those three schools appear to be contenders,” Anderson said.
Luckily for Minnesota, of the big three, the Gophers only play Ohio State during the regular season. The Buckeyes come to Siebert Field the second weekend in April.
As for now, the team has its focus on the Wolverines this weekend, starting tonight.
“Michigan has always given us problems over the years, and I think a lot of guys realize that,” Brosseau said. “We want to come out and sweep.”

John R. Carter covers baseball and welcomes comments at [email protected]