The Gophers and Ohio State baseball teams are fairly evenly matched, as the two games won by both teams this weekend would indicate.
One aspect of the game that figured to favor the Buckeyes was power. Ohio State had 45 home runs in 37 games going into the weekend, placing them very close to the Big Ten lead. Alex Eckelman and Dan Seimetz led the conference in homers with 14 each.
The Gophers, meanwhile, had 32 in 33 games, led by Robb Quinlan’s seven. Not a shabby total, but the Buckeyes have always been known for their power, and before the series Minnesota players and coaches expressed concern about Ohio State’s muscle.
So it might have come as a bit of a surprise that Minnesota out-homered the Buckeyes by a resounding six-to-one margin in the four-game series. Eckelman’s two-run homer in the Buckeyes’ 7-6 win in game three was Ohio State’s only dinger.
For Minnesota, Phil McDermott, Craig Selander and Bryan Guse all went deep in Friday’s 11-10 loss. Guse’s three-run homer in the ninth temporarily gave the Gophers an 8-7 lead. Quinlan and Eric Welter each hit solo homers in game three, helping the Gophers to a 3-2 win, their first of the series. And Mark Groebner hit a two-run homer on Sunday in Minnesota’s 13-3 win.
The Gophers now have 38 home runs on the year, one more than they had all of last season.
Although they committed eight errors to Minnesota’s one, Ohio State’s defense was still spectacular at times.
Shortstop Mark Carek made a diving catch in left field in the first game on Saturday and center fielder Mike Lockwood robbed Troy Stein of at least a double — maybe a home run — in the fourth inning of the second game.
But the most important plays were made by Eckelman, the second baseman. In Friday’s dramatic Buckeyes win, the senior made two plays in the 10th inning that kept the Gophers from breaking the game open.
Minnesota had already scored to take a 10-9 lead and had a runner on first with nobody out. Eckelman made a diving stop of a Ryan Beers grounder up the middle. He then flipped to second to get the force. Stein then doubled to put runners on second and third, but Eckelman robbed the Gophers again as he grabbed Guse’s blooper with his back to the infield.
The flip side
And then there’s Mike Kremblas.
The Buckeyes junior catcher made two errors on Friday that led to two unearned Gophers runs. He also rolled the ball to the mound and headed for the dugout after a strikeout in the third inning. The only problem with that is that there were only two outs.
Kremblas eventually compensated for his gaffes, however. With two outs in the bottom of the 10th, Kremblas ripped a base hit to right center to score the winning run.
Gophers outfielders lost two fly balls in the sun during Friday’s loss. So when Jason Driscoll, the batter who hit those two fly balls, hit another fly to left with two outs in the last inning and Minnesota up by a run, the Gophers couldn’t have been blamed for feeling nervous. Not pitching coach Mike Dee.
“I hit a bird with a golf ball once, and I don’t think it’ll happen to me again,” he said. “Those kinds of things happen. This game is really goofy sometimes.”
Hit & Run
ù Freshman Matt Scanlon, who started every game at third base for injured senior Bob Keeney this weekend, had a nine-game hitting streak snapped in the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader. Sophomore Craig Selander’s streak was halted at eight in the first game.
ù Not that the Gophers would complain, but in Sunday’s cakewalk, they left 15 men on base and struck out 14 times. McDermott got the ignominious “Golden Sombrero,” striking out four times.
ù Stein, who had a career .241 batting average in Big Ten games coming into this season, leads the Gophers with a .404 average in conference games this season.