Baseball team hopes to pad first-place lead in Big Ten

It’s not exactly Red Sox-Yankees, and there won’t be a power surge between Big Mac and Sammy, but this weekend’s Gophers baseball series against Ohio State is about as good as it gets.
With the top two teams in last season’s Big Ten campaign — the Buckeyes won the regular season, Minnesota was second — set to face off for four games at Siebert Field, it’s sure to be a battle.
For pitcher Andy Persby and the rest of the first-place Gophers, they want to use this series to prove to Ohio State this is Minnesota’s year to finish on top in the conference.
“We’ve got the home field,” Persby said. “They won it last year, while we finished second, so we want to show them that we are ready to play.”
Ready the Gophers are. After a 7-11 start, Minnesota has rolled off 10 wins in a row, to improve its record to 17-11, 4-0 in the Big Ten.
But while the players are looking to the Buckeyes games with some frustration from finishing behind them last year, Minnesota coach John Anderson is taking the short view..
“We don’t need any external motivation, we have our own motivation in ourselves,” Anderson said. “We just want to play as well as we can every time we play, regardless of who we play.
“Last year was last year, it doesn’t matter anymore. We want to win some games this weekend so we can stay on top in the standings.”
The Gophers’ 4-0 conference record is good enough for the top spot in the league. The Buckeyes (19-9, 2-2), on the other hand, are sitting in the middle of the pack following a split against Iowa last weekend.
If Minnesota is to continue its winning ways, the Gophers pitching staff will need to come through like it has during the streak.
The strong pitching begins with the starters, who are 8-0 with an ERA under 2.00 over the past 10 games.
The rotation has been set for this weekend, but it will not include junior ace Ben Birk. Birk continues to battle tendinitis in his left arm and was instructed by doctors not to throw this weekend. He should be ready for the Northwestern series next week.
That leaves it up to Mike Kobow (3-1), C.J. Woodrow (1-0), Chadd Clarey (3-2) and Kelly Werner (3-3) to pick up the slack.
Kobow gets the call in game one of the series Friday afternoon at 3 p.m.
Woodrow, who is making only his second start of the season, takes Birk’s spot in the rotation and will throw in the first game of Saturday’s twinbill.
Clarey will hurl in the second game of the doubleheader, while Werner closes out the series on Sunday.
There shouldn’t be any skepticism on the side of the Gophers surrounding the big series.
The four Gophers conference wins came against defending Big Ten tourney champion Michigan. That means there shouldn’t be any reluctance to feel Minnesota can do the same against the defending regular season champs too.
Not to mention that the Gophers’ 10-game win streak makes them the hottest team in the Big Ten.

John R. Carter covers baseball and welcomes comments at [email protected]