Gophers carry success into summer leagues

Twenty-two Gophers are headed to the Northwoods League after this season.

Tyler Hanson pitches for the Willmar Stingers in a game against the Rochester Honkers at the Bill Taunton Stadium in Willmar, Minn., on July 9, 2015.

Juliet Farmer, Daily File Photo

Tyler Hanson pitches for the Willmar Stingers in a game against the Rochester Honkers at the Bill Taunton Stadium in Willmar, Minn., on July 9, 2015.

by Jack White

Following a memorable season that ended in an NCAA Tournament appearance, many Gophers baseball players headed off to summer leagues to keep their games sharp.

Minnesota has 22 representatives playing on 11 different teams in the Northwoods League, with many of them having successful seasons so far.

Two Gophers players, Ben Mezzenga and Jordan Kozicky, earned a spot in the Northwoods League All-Star Game on July 20.

“It did surprise me a little bit just because I didn’t expect to have as much success this summer with the little success I had this past spring,” Mezzenga said. “It was definitely an honor to see the other guys that were selected. … It really made me realize how much hard work goes into it.”

Mezzenga and Kozicky were both freshmen players for the Gophers last season, and neither made much of an impact for the team. Mezzenga only had 23 at-bats with Minnesota, and Kozicky redshirted.

However, the two have broken out significantly in summer play.

Mezzenga leads the Eau Claire Express in batting average at .360 and is second on the team for total runs with 38.

Kozicky has a .299 batting average in 35 games played with the Mankato MoonDogs and has tallied 32 hits. The pair was voted to the All-Star Game by team field staff and media members.

While Mezzenga and Kozicky went 0-5 in the All-Star Game in Kenosha, Wis., their North team came away with a 9-5 victory over the South team.

Mezzenga said his All-Star caliber performance in the Northwoods League has helped him catch up to collegiate pitchers at the plate. 

“For me, it’s pretty much just the ability to know I can play with these guys,” he said. “Last year I kind of got blown away coming from high school to playing with the Gophers and playing with guys throwing consistently 90s.”

Elsewhere in the Northwoods League, upcoming junior Alex Boxwell is on an eight-game hitting streak for the Waterloo Bucks, and rising sophomore Eddie Estrada has had a hit in the last seven games he’s batted in. 

Gophers are also hitting a stride on the mound. Rising senior Brian Glowicki and upcoming sophomore Jake Stevenson have pitched a combined 23.2 innings for the St. Cloud Rox. Glowicki has registered a second-best four saves for the team.

“It’s different, that’s for sure,” Glowicki said. “I think the summer aspect of it makes everybody a little more laid back. Obviously we all want to go out there and compete at the highest level, but with it being summer, everybody is a little more relaxed.” 

Upcoming senior Tyler Hanson is pitching with the Willmar Stingers for the second consecutive summer. Hanson is 4-1 with the team and comes in fifth for total strikeouts with 30.

Hanson set a personal summer record on July 17 when he struck out nine batters in six innings of work against the Waterloo Bucks. 

“I’ve been working on new pitches and experimenting a little bit,” Hanson said. “Working with new catchers on a week-by-week basis, they don’t know your best pitch ,but they learn too, what your best pitches are and how to utilize my stuff. Just keep through the game and get guys out.”