Big Ten season opens against Penn State at the Metrodome

Robert Mews

The Big Ten baseball season gets under way for Minnesota and Penn State this weekend at the Metrodome.

That means a relief from the southern school blues for both squads.

Minnesota (10-8) hosts Penn State (4-16) tonight at 6:30, tomorrow for two seven-inning games that begin at 2 p.m., and will end the series Sunday at 2 p.m.

Both schools to this point have felt the effect of playing tough nonconference schedules.

In fact, both schools already have faced two teams in the top 25.

And, while Penn State has escaped its schedule with a losing record, the team batting average still remains fairly high.

Batting .281, coach John Anderson said the Lions are a dangerous team.

“They must have a fairly good offensive team,” he said. “It looks like they do have some power and so we’re going to have to continue to pitch extremely well.”

The Gophers have been pitching well this season. The team earned-run average is 3.57, which is second in the Big Ten.

Anderson said the team will send left-hander Brian Bull (2-3) to the mound Friday to face lefty Alan Stidfole (1-1). In Saturday’s first competition, the Gophers will send Dustin Brabender (2-3) to the mound and John Gaub (0-0) in the second. Cole DeVries (2-1) will start Sunday for Minnesota.

It will be Gaub’s second start of the season since his off-season surgery.

“He’ll probably go 60 pitches or however far that takes us in that game,” Anderson said. “And then we’ll try to mix and match out of the bullpen.”

Anderson also will have to deal with the third-base position this weekend. Since Nate Hanson’s injury, the Gophers have not found a solid replacement in Jeremy Chlan or Joe Maciej.

“I hope we can have a little more consistent play at third base this weekend,” Anderson said.

On the other side, Penn State’s pitching has not faired so well. Their team ERA of 5.39 makes them eighth in the Big Ten.

“They got quality starting pitching,” junior and outfielder Mike Mee said. “They’ve lost a couple of guys, but they got one of their good guys (Stidfole) back from last year that we faced.”

Despite the Lions’ overall ERA, Stidfole has pitched fairly well. He has an ERA of 3.82 with 35 strikeouts in 35 1/3 innings of work.

“He was good last year,” first baseman Andy Hunter said. “He’s good this year and he’s going to be a good challenge for us from the left side (left-handed batters).”

And whether the batting averages and ERAs play a role, the Lions are lacking in one area this weekend: They never have played a game at the Metrodome, which might play a factor.

“It’s a huge advantage because it’s a big stadium,” Hunter said. “It’s the surface we’re used to. And hopefully they’ll be in awe a little bit and we’ll just be able to go out there and get a couple of wins.”

Anderson also said the environment will be a critical factor in deciding who wins this weekend.

“We hope the home environment, whether it’s the stadium, the crowd Ö plays into the series,” Anderson said.