Baseball tames Lions, moves conference record to perfect 10-0 on year

Brett Angel

Minnesota’s baseball team is quietly establishing itself as one of the best in the country, but its early-season dominance of conference opponents has reverberated loud and clear throughout the Big Ten.

The Gophers’ 8-2 win against Penn State at Siebert Field on Sunday concluded a four-game sweep of the Lions and improved Minnesota’s record to a perfect 10-0 in the Big Ten and 20-11 overall.

The 10 straight victories to open a conference season is the best start for the Gophers since they won their first 11 Big Ten games in 1993.

“I’ve been in the Big Ten for 13 years and the way Minnesota played this weekend – pitching, defense, offense – its one of the best teams I’ve seen,” Penn State coach Joe Hindelang said.

Hindelang’s team traveled to Minneapolis tied for second place in the conference, only to leave with a four-game losing streak.

“I believe as a head coach they’re the best team we’ve played all year and that includes Arizona State,” Hindelang said.

Sophomore Matt Loberg (3-1) allowed just one run and six hits in six innings to earn the victory for Minnesota on Sunday.

It was Loberg’s first outing since giving up eight runs and nine hits to Michigan State in just over an inning March 30.

“I kind of forgot about that outing,” Loberg said with a laugh. “I made a lot better pitches today, guys made some plays and we really hit the ball too.”

On Saturday, Minnesota won both games of a doubleheader for the fourth time this season by sweeping the Lions 4-3 and 2-1.

The Gophers trailed 1-0 in game two heading into their last at-bat. Centerfielder Sam Steidl doubled home the game-winning runs with two outs in the bottom of the seventh to keep Minnesota’s winning streak intact.

“Everybody’s got the feeling we can’t lose right now,” Steidl said. “Even when we get down we always think we’ve got a shot until the final out is made.”

Penn State players and coaches thought the ball was foul and pleaded their case with the umpires before leaving the field in dismay.

“The hit that won the game (Saturday) we felt was a phantom double,” Hindelang said. “Our catcher said the ball was foul by a foot, but the only call that matters is the umpire’s.”

Minnesota’s 19-1 dismantling of Penn State on Friday was a little less controversial.

The Gophers scored 12 runs in the bottom of the eighth inning – all with two outs – to blow the game open.

It looked like Minnesota would go down harmlessly when rightfielder Ben Pattee grounded to the shortstop with two outs. But after Pattee reached on an error, the Gophers tied an NCAA record by reeling off 11 consecutive hits. They sent 16 batters to the plate in the inning.

In spite of all the offense Minnesota generated over the weekend, it was the defense that most impressed head coach John Anderson.

“We had outstanding starting pitching, but the defense complimented that,” Anderson said. “We executed on offense, defense and on the mound. And when you do those three things you’re going to have a great chance to win.”

Minnesota will play host to St. Cloud State at 6 p.m. Tuesday before welcoming UW-Milwaukee to Siebert Field on Wednesday afternoon. The Gophers will then travel to Illinois for a four-game series beginning Friday.

Brett Angel welcomes comments at [email protected]