Gophers see set with Butler as a chance to get on the right track

by Matt Perkins

In 2002, Minnesota’s baseball team started its season with a sluggish 1-9 record only to turn around with a three-game series sweep at home against Valparaiso, scoring 52 runs in the process.

This year, the Gophers hope another team from Indiana can help change their hitting fortunes.

Minnesota plays host to Butler this weekend in a three-game series at the Metrodome, running today through Sunday, and a barrage of hits in a series sweep could once again help turn around its “disappointing” 4-10 start.

“Of course, we would like to be somewhere different,” senior catcher and captain Jake Elder said. “I think a lot of the guys are disappointed with the way we have started out. But there is a long way to go and we are going to keep working and try to improve ourselves.”

There is room for improvement in almost all facets of the game, coach John Anderson said, and especially in the batters box.

The opposition has out-hit the Gophers in nine of the first 14 games by a 53-hit margin. The Gophers have only reached double-digit hits three times, while giving up double digits in nine games.

But a turnaround could be on the horizon. In their 7-6 loss to Rutgers on Sunday, the Gophers had a season-high 14 hits in a near-comeback win in the bottom of the ninth.

This weekend’s series with the Bulldogs, who come in giving up more than 11 hits per game on their way to a 3-11 start, should be a good opportunity to break out of that slump,

But Anderson said even a 3-11 team like Butler could become a brick wall after glancing over the Gophers’ resume.

“We’re a marked team,” Anderson said. “We’ve had a lot of success the last seven or eight years and people will come and play us and show up and bring their ‘A’ game because they want to beat us. They understand our history and tradition and we have to match that and bring our ‘A’ game, and we haven’t been able to do that consistently, yet.”

As much as the Gophers are looking for quantity, the quality of hits is starting to come around as well.

In the series against Rutgers, the Gophers executed a couple of hit and runs to perfection. But outside their bottom-of-the-ninth near-heroics Sunday, the Gophers haven’t been able to put together many back-to-back hits.

“It helps when you can get one or two hits in a row, work guys around the bases and try to get them in,” third baseman David Hrncirik said.

Anderson noted his team was thrust into a tough early schedule that saw it play five games against top-25 teams, including a three-game series at No. 21 Arkansas to open the season.

The hits will come, Anderson said, as long as the team maintains a gritty attitude on the field.

“Some games this year, we’ve gotten tired and I think we’ve lost some of our fight,” Anderson said. “But we’ve talked about it, addressed it and I think we’re going to do a better job of hanging in there, competing and using all 27 outs to see if we can’t make a difference in getting the game back on our side.”