Minnesota pitches shutout in final Big Ten tune-up

Northern Iowa managed just six hits against the Gophers’ pitching staff.

by Paul Cordes

A wild bottom half of the fourth inning for the Minnesota baseball team proved fatal for Northern Iowa, as the Gophers recorded their fifth-straight victory Wednesday night.

Minnesota took advantage of four Panthers errors, a controversial home run call and three walks as it put across six runs in the fourth, on the way to an 8-1 win at the Metrodome.

Freshman second baseman Derek McCallum’s two-run home run down the right field line got the ball rolling in the inning, as Northern Iowa head coach Rick Heller furiously contested the fair-ball call with the home plate umpire George Drouches.

Despite the contentious call, the Panthers (11-11 overall, 1-2 MVC) recorded two quick outs and looked as though they could avoid a big inning.

But a Northern Iowa mental collapse led to four errors and a pair of wild pitches that forced the Panthers into facing eight more batters before recording the final out.

McCallum said it’s important to turn those miscues into opportunities.

“When another team makes mistakes like that, good teams will always take advantage of it and we did that today,” he said “We were fortunate enough that they made those mistakes and we capitalized on them.”

Capitalizing on those errors though doesn’t always come easy.

With all the chaos of a sloppily played inning, coach John Anderson said it’s sometimes easy to lose focus.

“Sometimes it’s easy to get distracted as a hitter with wild pitches and all kinds of errors and stuff going on,” he said. “But I thought we got over that and didn’t lose our concentration and had some really good at bats that inning.”

And after that inning, the Gophers’ bullpen once again came out and went to work.

In the last 12 and two-thirds innings, Minnesota relief pitchers have given up just two runs, including just one last night.

Freshman right-hander Allen Bechstein, who went two and two-thirds giving up just one hit and striking out one, said pitchers have their own role to play after a wild inning, which can be just as important as the inning itself.

“When you get long innings like that and score a lot of runs, it’s important to go out there and try to get a one-two-three inning right away,” he said. “We want to get them back out there right away and hopefully make some mistakes again.”

Minnesota’s pitching staff in general has been strong as of late.

In the last four games, the Gophers (15-5, 0-0 Big Ten) have given up just five runs.

Anderson said he gives his pitching staff a lot of credit and is confident in every guy he puts out on the mound.

“To me the first 20 games of the season I think you have to point to the pitching staff, and guys coming out of the bullpen and how effective they’ve been,” he said. “I told the team after the game tonight I thought the difference was our pitching.”

And for the fourth game in a row, Minnesota’s bench was nearly emptied, as 15 players went to the plate.

Anderson said he doesn’t remember the last time he had the opportunity to give that many players playing time.

“I have confidence in the guys we’re putting in the game,” he said. “If I feel like you’ve worked hard and you can play at a level we need you to play at, we put you out there.”