Gophers host Spartans in weekend series

Paul Cordes

After winning a pair of series against Iowa and Penn State, the Minnesota baseball team is getting ready to face its first conference opponent with a league record above .500.

The Gophers will play host to Michigan State at Siebert field in a crucial set of games this weekend, with tonight’s opener scheduled for 6:35, a pair of seven inning matchups on Saturday beginning at 2:05 p.m. and a 1:05 p.m. finale on Sunday.

After jumping out to a 5-2 record in the Big Ten, the Spartans looked to be a top team in the conference, but after a tough series against Penn State last weekend, Michigan State (15-13 overall, 6-5 Big Ten) is going to be looking for a little redemption.

Senior shortstop Dan Lyons said he knows Michigan State is going to be a tough opponent and, after splitting the series last year, Minnesota (22-7 5-2) will be looking to avenge a pair of losses to the Spartans.

“They’re going to come out and play hard. They played us well last year and we came out of that weekend thinking we could have played better,” he said. “So we really want to get after them. We have to get on the board early and get on top and then bury them from there.”

But that isn’t going to be easy, especially with Michigan State’s senior right-hander Craig Brookes on the mound.

Brookes is sporting a 1.65 earned run average in 49 innings of work so far this season.

The Spartans pitching as a whole hasn’t been flawless, but they certainly won’t be an easy task for the Gophers to handle.

Michigan State’s 4.29 ERA is fourth in the conference and the team has allowed just 108 runs in 28 games, which puts them third in the Big Ten.

Even though those numbers have earned them a respectable spot in the conference, Minnesota seems to be one step up on the Spartans in every category.

The Gophers are second in the league, pitching, as a team, with a 3.64 ERA, and have allowed just 98 runs in the same amount of games.

But coach John Anderson said he still wants more from his staff.

Minnesota’s pitchers have been struggling to get the ball across the plate, and most of its starters are behind on pitch counts due to a nearly two-week period without a game.

Anderson said he needs his guys to throw a lot of strikes this weekend.

“We have to pitch better than we did last weekend,” he said. “Our strike percentage was down and we didn’t throw as many strikes early in the count as we usually do. We have to throw more strikes and play good defense this weekend.”

Defensively, the Gophers rank among the best in the Big Ten as well.

Their .968 fielding percentage is third in the league and making good plays in the field is something Anderson is stressing hard, especially on Minnesota’s home field.

“It all starts with pitching and defense,” he said. “When you’re at home, especially if you can eliminate extra base runners and take away any of their extra chances, we’re going to give ourselves a lot better chance to win here.”

And if the Gophers can put both pitching, defense and hitting together, sophomore third baseman Nate Hanson said he is confident Minnesota can grab some victories this weekend.

“We have to go up there and swing the bat and get some runs,” he said. “I think it will be an intense series, but, with the momentum we have, I think we’ll be able to pull out some wins.”