Gophers swept in opening series

A ninth-inning Houston run sealed the sweep for the Cougars.

Ben Gotz

In their opening series, it took three days for the Gophers to start getting around the bases.

Unfortunately for the Gophers, even a late rally to tie the game on Sunday wasn’t enough for them to stave off a sweep.

The team’s offense struggled in 9-1 and 5-0 losses to the Cougars on Friday and Saturday. The game was closer until the final inning on Sunday, but the Gophers still lost 5-4.

“We kind of showed what we were capable of doing as far as hitting,” junior centerfielder Dan Motl said on Sunday’s game. “We got a lot more aggressive.”

Motl hit a two-run single in the second inning to add to the Gophers’ first lead of the series, but Houston chipped away the rest of the game before taking the lead in the bottom of the sixth.

The Gophers attempted a comeback in the final inning of the game, with sophomore Matt Fiedler driving in freshman outfielder Alex Boxwell to tie the game at four.

But the Cougars answered to sweep the series in the bottom of the ninth, with junior Ian Rice reaching home after an intentional walk loaded the bases.

Facing the Cougars to open the season was a tall task for the Gophers. Houston is as high as No. 3 in national polls, but Minnesota head coach John Anderson said he was happy with how his team competed.

“I thought we played with confidence,” Anderson said. “We battled all weekend.”

On Friday, the Cougars got their first runs of the season quickly, with a two-run homer from Rice in the bottom of the first.

The Gophers didn’t score their first run until the top of the ninth inning, facing a nine-run deficit.

The team was unable to get to Houston starting pitcher Andrew Lantrip, who allowed only one hit in five innings of work.

The next day, the Gophers started faster, leading off the game with three consecutive singles.

But the team failed to come away with a run as a flyout and two strikeouts ended the inning.

On the mound, junior Dalton Sawyer made his second career start for the Gophers, after pitching out of the bullpen for last season.

In 4 and 1/3 innings, Sawyer gave up three earned runs while striking out five batters.

“[It] actually went pretty good,” Anderson said. “For a guy that’s been in his bullpen his whole career, making that jump from the bullpen to starting pitching is not easy. I thought as he went along, he got better.”

Sawyer retired every Houston batter he faced in three of his first four innings, but a Houston home run and triple led to a three-run second inning.

“I wasn’t happy with the second inning, but that’s just the way it goes,” Sawyer said. “I felt like that breaking ball finally came around after that second inning, and unfortunately it was a little late.”

The Gophers ended up a little late too after playing well in the final game of the series.

“They’re further ahead of us,” Anderson said. “We’ll see if we catch them later in the year.”