Mavericks, Spanier top U baseball 11-6

by Anthony Maggio

In its final game before opening the Big Ten season, Minnesota’s baseball team lost to Minnesota State, Mankato 11-6 at the Metrodome on Wednesday night.

With the loss, the Gophers drop to 8-12 on the year.

Minnesota led for most of the contest, but was shellacked in the top of the eighth inning.

With a comfortable 6-2 lead, the Gophers gave up nine runs on seven hits and were unable to recover.

Leading the way for the Mavericks was catcher Eric Spanier, who went 2-4 at the plate with two RBI and a walk.

Jason Cierlik was credited with the win for Minnesota State – Mankato, while Nate Broehm recorded the loss, dropping to 0-2 on the season.

Despite the defeat, Minnesota coach John Anderson is not concerned about his team as they prepare for the conference opener this weekend at Michigan State.

“My concerns are some of the lack of good decisions we made on defense tonight,” Anderson said. “But when you lose games, you try to use them to learn things. We try to use them as opportunities to improve.”

Wednesday was Minnesota’s last chance to tune up before playing the 15-3 Spartans. Like Minnesota, Michigan State has yet to play a conference game.

Last season, the Gophers went 3-1 against Michigan State, but the Spartans boast a powerful offense this season.

Michigan State has scored more than 10 runs in 10 games on the year.

“Their offensive numbers are incredible,” Anderson said. “The challenge for us will be to get them out. We’re going to have to keep the games to four or five runs and pitch and play defense. If we do that we have a good chance.”

Minnesota, the defending conference tournament champion, has turned things around since stumbling early with a 1-9 record. The Gophers are 7-3 in their last 10 games, including a win over then ninth-ranked Nebraska.

Last weekend, Minnesota took three of four from Central Michigan.

Prior to facing the Chippewas, the Gophers split two games with Nebraska and swept Valparaiso.

“We’ve been playing a lot better the last two or three weeks,” senior Jason Kennedy said. “We’ve pitched a ton better in the last couple of weeks.

“We’re definitely going in the right direction.”

While Minnesota has relied on a balanced team performance for victories, a few individuals have stepped up to turn in stellar performances and earn player of the week honors.

Third baseman Ben Pattee earned Big Ten Player of the Week two weeks ago for his performance versus Northern Iowa and the Crusaders. Pattee batted .706 with four multi-hit games, including a career-high four hit game against Valparaiso.

Sophomore pitcher Jay Gagner earned Big Ten Pitcher of the Week honors three weeks ago after pitching a complete game to hand Alabama its first loss of the season.

Right fielder Jason Kennedy was also named Big Ten Player of the Week early this season after batting .778 with two home runs – including a grand slam – two doubles, eight RBI, five runs and five walks against defending national champion Miami.

Kennedy currently is tied for the team lead with three home runs and two triples, while leading the team in RBI (25), stolen bases (15), walks (17), on base percentage (.560) and slugging percentage (.672).

“I think I’m playing the best of my career right now,” Kennedy said. “I’m just trying to keep things simple and it seems to be working.”

But for the Gophers to win games through the Big Ten season, they must cut down on defensive mistakes (44 errors in 20 games), and get more consistency from their starting rotation.

“Every game is very important,” Kennedy said. “We lost the Big Ten last year by one game, so that proves that we need every game we can get.”

Anthony Maggio covers baseball and
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