Pitching sets tone in baseball series

EVANSTON, Ill.– The stands behind home plate at Rocky Miller Field at Northwestern looked like a speed trap along Interstate 94 in Wisconsin.
About a half-dozen people were clocking Minnesota and Northwestern pitchers with their radar guns throughout the weekend. But they weren’t there to arrest any of the Gophers or Wildcats, they were instead scouting a few of the Big Ten’s best hurlers.
The starting staffs of the two schools wrote the script for the weekend split between the teams and drew some interest from fellow players, as well as the scouts, with their efforts.
“We faced three outstanding pitchers this weekend,” Gophers pitcher Ben Birk said. “I haven’t seen a team with three starters like that all year.”
But while strong pitching might have been a surprise to Birk, it wasn’t for the two head coaches. Gophers coach John Anderson anticipated a dominating weekend from both pitching staffs.
Unfortunately for Anderson, his Gophers were on the losing end of two of those dominating pitching performances, which led to a sweep in Saturday’s doubleheader.
Northwestern’s Gabe Ribas and Dan Padgett each shut Minnesota down, with each allowing only a pair of runs, and a combined nine hits, in Saturday’s twinbill.
“They pitched outstanding, and we can’t take that away from them,” Anderson said. “They are pretty good on the mound.”
The Wildcats’ staff was among the toughest bunch of hurlers the Gophers will go up against this season, and that’s something Northwestern head coach Paul Stevens takes pride in.
“We’ve had strong efforts from our starters for most of the year,” Stevens said. “The fact of the matter is in this league if you can pitch, you’re going to be in a lot of ball games.”
The dominating efforts by Ribas and Padgett were not unmatched on the mound. The Gophers also had a couple of strong efforts from their staff.
On Friday, Mike Kobow threw a complete game, allowing just one run and striking out three in a 4-1 Gophers win. The sophomore also had a career-high 10 K’s.
Then on Sunday, Minnesota got three-plus innings of no-hit ball from Birk, before the ace tired. The short stint was Birk’s first appearance in three weeks because of a constant battle with tendinitis in his throwing arm.
Anderson said it was nice to see Birk, who will be key down the stretch for the Gophers pitching staff, come out and give the Gophers an edge, even if it was for just a short time.
“He was loose, and he pitched well,” Anderson said. “He was important because we got the lead and he then put three zeros on the scoreboard.
“Hopefully he’ll recover and pitch next weekend so we can build on it.”

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