Off to its best start since 1998, the Minnesota baseball team is ready to showcase
its arsenal against some of
the toughest teams in the country – if the weather cooperates.
The Gophers are supposed to kick off their home slate with three games during the 23rd annual Dairy Queen Classic at the Metrodome this weekend.
Minnesota is scheduled to play The Citadel tonight at 6:35, Mississippi on Saturday at 6:35 p.m. and Arkansas on Sunday at 3:05 p.m.
However, tonight’s original opponent, The Citadel, has already pulled out of the tournament due to travel complications, so the Gophers (3-0) don’t know who they will face tonight when the first pitch is thrown.
To fill the void left by The Citadel, Nebraska and St. Thomas could end up in the Twin Cities at some point over the weekend. If no other team can make it, however, the Gophers will likely play the 24th-ranked Rebels (4-1 overall) or the fifth-raked Razorbacks
(6-2) twice in the three-day span.
The prospect of facing Arkansas or Mississippi multiple times might not be such a pleasant one for Minnesota. After all, coach John Anderson said both Southeastern Conference teams are legitimate threats to win the College World Series.
“We didn’t schedule them because we’re just looking for ‘W’s here,” Anderson said. “We know we’re going to have our hands full.”
But if the Gophers can pitch like they did last weekend, Minnesota might be prime to pull off the upset.
Last weekend in South Carolina, Anderson used only eight pitchers and they combined for a minimal ERA of 2.33.
This weekend, Anderson said he will go with the same three starters as last week – junior Gary Perinar on Friday, junior Dustin Brabender on Saturday and sophomore Tyler Oakes on Sunday.
“I can’t remember ever going on a first trip of the year and using only eight pitchers,” Anderson said. “I was impressed with our pitching staff and their ability to throw strikes and locate their pitches.”
With a full dose of confidence after the way each pitcher performed in South Carolina, sophomore third basemen Nate Hanson said he believes the Gophers’ pitching staff will challenge hitters all weekend, despite the other teams’ impressive résumés.
“Our pitchers have been pitching great so far, so I don’t think they’ll struggle with the name ‘Arkansas’ or the name ‘Mississippi,’ just another team,” he said.
Minnesota had plenty of other things to be encouraged by from its trip down south. The Gophers showed resiliency in their first game of the year, rallying from a 4-0 deficit to pull off a 7-5 win over North Carolina-Asheville.
Hanson, who homered in Minnesota’s first two games of the year, said being able to come from behind is a good sign for a team this early in the season.
“Usually you see that midway through the season, not necessarily the beginning,” he said. “But we showed it early. Now we know what we’re capable of.”
After coming together on the road last weekend, Brabender said he is eager to see what his team can do for the first time at the Metrodome after three weeks of practice.
“It’s exciting,” Brabender said of playing nationally ranked competition. “You don’t get better by playing worse teams. It will be a good test.”
Anderson, who is notorious for scheduling difficult games during the Gophers’ nonconference season, said his team will learn plenty from its experiences this weekend.
“It’s another opportunity to evaluate our team against top-notch competition,” he said.
“They will expose some of our weaknesses and at least give us an indication of where we’re at and what we’ve got here as we march forward and try to get ready for the Big Ten season.”