Gophers catch hitting bug at the Metrodome

To those familiar with flu season in Minnesota, contagious is a word with negative implications. To the Minnesota baseball team, contagious is great. Contagious hitting that is, and itâÄôs exactly what the Gophers (3-2 overall) got Friday night as they opened the Dairy Queen Classic with a 13-3 win over UC-Santa Barbara (3-2) at the Metrodome. âÄúWe banged the ball around the yard all day,âÄù redshirt freshman shortstop AJ Pettersen said. âÄúOnce it gets going, it really rolls, and itâÄôs fun to play when youâÄôre hitting like that.âÄù The Gophers jumped out of the gates with runs in the first three innings and took a 6-0 lead thanks to timely hitting and aggressive base-running. Gauchos starting pitcher Mario Hollands gave up nine hits and tossed 130 pitches in just six innings. âÄúWe made him [Hollands] work really hard the first three innings, we had some good at-bats, got some big hits, put some balls in play,âÄù head coach John Anderson said. âÄúI think the first three innings really set the tempo for the game.âÄù Though Minnesota cooled in the middle innings, junior center fielder Eric Decker sparked the GophersâÄô offense back to life with a homerun to right to lead off the eighth and Minnesota again caught the hitting bug. The Gophers brought 13 batters to the plate before the inning ended, racking up seven runs and eight hits in the process. Minnesota drove four balls out of the park in the game; Decker, right fielder Michael Kvasnicka, and left fielder Jon Hummel all hit their first homeruns of the season while second baseman Derek McCullum knocked his second. It was the first time since April 18, 2007 that the Gophers notched four homeruns in one game. MinnesotaâÄôs pitching followed an arc that was similar, if not quite as dramatic, to its hitting. Starting pitcher Chauncy Handran remained rock solid for six innings, his only blemish a Mark Haddow homerun to straightaway center in the top of the sixth. âÄúChauncy did a great job throwing strikes, letting us play defense,âÄù Pettersen said. âÄúSix innings against a really good team and he shut them down.âÄù But after walking first baseman Eric Oliver to open the seventh, Handran was replaced by lefty reliever Phil Isaksson, who couldnâÄôt match HandranâÄôs success. The Gauchos loaded the bases quickly and plated two thanks to an error by second baseman Derek McCallum and a walk by Isaksson. After only a third of an inning, IsakssonâÄôs day was done. UC-Santa Barbara looked to be climbing back into the game, but IsakssonâÄôs replacement, right-hander Cullen Sexton, was the spark to the defense that Decker was to the offense. He was perfect in his two and two-thirds innings of work, retiring eight straight batters and throwing 25 strikes on 28 pitches. âÄúSexton came out of the bullpen and did a nice job for us,âÄù Anderson said. âÄúHeâÄôs got a tremendous arm. Last year he struggled at times out there but heâÄôs off to a good start and I think heâÄôs much more confident and comfortable out there.âÄù