Bats come to life as Minn. downs SDSU

The Gophers had a season-high 16 hits — four from Michael Handel — in a 9-3 win.

Samuel Gordon

If the Big Ten season started today, the Gophers would rank near the bottom in almost all major offensive categories.

You wouldn’t have known that on Wednesday.

A season-high 16 hits helped Minnesota defeat South Dakota State 9-3.

“We were able to put together more good consecutive at-bats,” Gophers head coach John Anderson said. “It was good to see.”

The Gophers (13-13) will ride a four-game winning streak into their conference opener Friday against Michigan.

A contingent of Minnesota pitchers kept the Jackrabbits’ offense under wraps for much of the night, and the Gophers roughed up SDSU starter Austin Busse in the game’s middle innings.

Freshman shortstop Michael Handel played the best game of his young career. He was 4-for-4 with two RBIs and four stolen bases.

No Minnesota player had swiped three bags in a game since Dan Lyons on Apr. 19, 2006.

“I’ve never been the fastest guy out there,” Handel said with a smile. “Coach told me to go, so I tried not to let him down and go.”

Centerfielder Troy Larson was 2-for-3 with a trio of RBIs. Designated hitter David Bettenburg drove in a pair of runs, too.

“We’re playing defense well, we’re pitching well and now we’re starting to swing the bats well,” Larson said. “Hopefully we can carry that into the weekend.”

Minnesota scored three times in the fourth inning to nab a 3-0 lead.

SDSU responded with two runs of its own in the fourth inning.

The Gophers extended their lead by scoring four runs in the bottom of the fifth inning.

Catcher Matt Halloran led off the frame with a double. He was 2-for-4 with two doubles and an RBI.

Two batters later, Handel plated him with an RBI-single.

Handel swiped second and advanced to third on a wild pitch. First baseman Ryan Abrahamson and second baseman Matt Puhl walked, and Larson busted the game wide open with a two-run single.

“It’s just important to string a bunch of base hits together,” Larson said. “That’s what we did tonight, and that’s why we were successful.”

Minnesota scored two more runs in the bottom of the seventh inning and held on for an easy victory.

Freshman Ben Meyer threw 3.1 scoreless innings in his second-career start for the Gophers.

Jordan Jess, another freshman hurler, earned his first career victory.

Jess took over for Meyer in the fourth inning and allowed two runs and two earned runs in 2.1 innings.

“Now that we’ve got those bats rolling around,” Handel said, “it gives our pitchers a little breathing room.”

Minnesota will open Big Ten play Friday with a three-game set against Michigan.

Handel said the team’s morale and confidence are both high going into the weekend.

“I think we all knew [our offense] was coming,” he said. “Now that we’re coming around, we’re going to do well in Big Ten [play] coming up.”