Gophers hit road, travel to frigid Ann Arbor

by Paul Cordes

It might be spring, but for the Minnesota baseball team this weekend, it’s not going to feel like it.

The Gophers are traveling to Ann Arbor for a four-game series against Michigan this weekend, and temperatures don’t look like they’ll make it above 40 degrees.

The series kicks off with a 2:05 p.m. opener today. Saturday’s doubleheader starts at 12:05 p.m. and Sunday’s first pitch will also be at 12:05.

Big Ten baseball in the North isn’t famous for delightful weather in early spring, but that doesn’t make playing in the freezing cold with possible snow showers any easier.

It is likely some type of time or game shifting will occur with the inclement weather conditions, throwing even another distraction into the mix.

But sophomore center fielder Matt Nohelty said Minnesota’s focus has to be on showing up to play rather than the weather.

“We just have to expect the game to be on until it’s off,” he said. “We have to be ready to go out and play, whatever the conditions may be.”

If weather conditions do hold up and the series goes on, it’s going to be an important one for both teams.

Michigan (16-6 overall, 4-0 Big Ten) is the lone team atop the Big Ten after a four-game sweep of Northwestern last weekend and both the Gophers (17-6, 2-1) and the Wolverines were picked by Baseball America to be two of the top-three teams in the conference this season.

Coach John Anderson himself picked Michigan to take the conference because of its returning talent.

But as far as conference seeds at the end of the year and NCAA regional chances go, all four games will be pivotal for both teams.

However, Anderson did say Minnesota can’t look at these games any differently.

“We’re not going to try and change anything,” Anderson said. “We’ve talked to our kids all year about bringing the same mindset, and this game is no more important than the first game of the year or the last game of the year. They’re all important.”

The Gophers pitching staff will have a tough assignment on their hands against Michigan’s hitters.

The Wolverines as a team are hitting .326, which is third in the league, and its 20 home runs have led to a .496 slugging percentage – both tops in the conference.

But Minnesota’s burly pitching staff is going to be one of, if not the toughest, rotations Michigan has seen this year. The Gophers Big Ten leading 3.49 team earned run average should be a tough challenge for the Wolverines.

Junior right-hander Gary Perinar went one step further and said that poor weather could potentially be beneficial for Minnesota’s pitchers.

“I think it’s kind of an advantage to the pitcher,” he said. “As pitchers, we’re really the only ones that are constantly moving around and keeping warm so I’ve always looked at (pitching in cold weather) as me having the upper hand, rather than the hitter.”

Against good teams, base runners tend to become less frequent, making them all the more important.

With that in mind, getting players in scoring position will be important.

And while a lot of times teams will go to the sacrifice bunt to move runners over, the Gophers have found success in another category.

Minnesota is third in the conference in stolen bases so far this season with Nohelty leading the Gophers with 12 on 13 attempts.

He said stealing bases has been key to keeping some rallies alive, and it keeps a lot of pressure on an opponent’s defense.

“Our coaches preach about having a big inning, and a sac bunt kind of kills that to some degree, so having a guy get from first to second without giving up an out is huge,” Nohelty said. “It keeps the bat in the guy’s hands one more time and gives you a chance to expand the inning a little more.”