Midweek misery for Minnesota

After Wednesday’s loss, the Gophers’ midweek losing streak now stands at five.

The last time the Gophers baseball team played North Dakota State was in a pair of games in the Metrodome in mid-March.

At that time the Gophers were starting to play their best baseball of the year, and would win six of their next seven games.

Now, almost two months later, a much different Minnesota team traveled to Fargo, losing 9-4 to the Bison Wednesday night.

“We were playing with more swagger and confidence back then,” catcher Kyle Knudson said. “The tough losses lately have kind of brought us down.”

The loss dropped the Gophers to 18-30, and they have lost their last five midweek games – twice to Northern Iowa, twice to South Dakota State and once to the Bison.

With the season winding down, the team is trying to find that “swagger” they had in March.

“We’re the same team. Nothing’s really changed,” first baseman Tom Steidl said. “That’s the thing we need to step back and look at: we have the same amount of talent that we have had all year. Talent isn’t the issue. We have to remember that we’re the same team that put together that winning streak in March, and we can do it again.”

Walks, errors and mental lapses again plagued the Gophers, who have lost nine of their last 11 games.

Four different players committed errors in the game, while Jeff DeSmidt and Eric Decker were both picked off of second base.

“What can I say? It was more of the same,” said coach John Anderson, who was ejected for the fifth time this season for arguing balls and strikes. “We really didn’t make the plays we needed to on defense. We made way too many mistakes in the game to have a chance to win. That’s the best way I can sum it up.”

“It’s something that we need to improve on,” added Steidl. “We haven’t played errorless ball in a while. It makes it hard on the pitchers, especially when they’re getting ground balls and double-plays balls and we’re not making them into outs.”

The pitching staff gave up just two walks, but hit three batters and gave up 16 hits. The Gophers lead the Big Ten in hit batters with 69.

Freshman Scott Fern started the game, and gave up eight hits and four earned runs in just two innings, raising his ERA to 7.00.

With their top three starters being upper-classmen, the Gophers have started Fern in most of their midweek games with the hope that he will turn into a Big Ten-caliber starter. But after a strong start against Northern Iowa on April 16, he has given up nine earned runs in seven innings of work (11.57 ERA) since.

“I thought Scott went backwards for us a little tonight,” Anderson said. “He had a good outing a few weeks back, but since then I don’t think he’s pitched as well. It’s his first year and he has a ways to go before he can become a solid starter.”

It was the last midweek game of the season for the Gophers, who have two Big Ten series left.

This weekend they host first-place Michigan, ranked No. 19 in the country, and then host sixth-place Penn State to finish the season.

At 8-16 in conference play, the Gophers are last in the Big Ten. They are three games out of sixth place, where they would need to finish to make a 10th straight Big Ten tournament appearance.