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Pitching turnaround salvages split of series

The wild pitching in the home dome made for a rough start to Minnesota’s Big Ten baseball opener against Penn State.

But the Gophers (12-10, 2-2 Big Ten) rebounded with back-to-back shutouts to take a four-game series split with the Nittany Lions (6-18, 2-2 Big Ten) with 5-0 decisions Sunday and Saturday.

Minnesota wouldn’t have won the split without its pitching.

Cole DeVries (3-1) wrapped up the victory for the Gophers on Sunday. It was also his third appearance without giving up a run this season at home – he also tossed shutout innings against Notre Dame and Ball State.

“It felt great today,” DeVries said.

The junior right-hander succeeded at taming the top half of the Lions’ batting order.

Batters one through four in the Penn State lineup went 11 for 31 (.354) in the first two games of the series.

However, DeVries said he didn’t pitch them any differently than he normally pitches most batters he faces.

“I just try and make sure that I hit my locations and get that first strike in,” DeVries said.

He was helped when Sean Kommerstad hit a RBI double to center field to break a scoreless tie in the bottom of the seventh.

“I was just trying to see the ball deep and hopefully drive something to the gap,” Kommerstad said. “I think our team just kind of needed something to get it going.”

The inning continued when second baseman Luke MacLean got his first hit of the series – a two-RBI triple to right field.

Two runs later, the Gophers assured themselves the series split.

They also were able to secure a 5-0 decision in Saturday’s second game with strong pitching by junior John Gaub and freshman Tyler Oakes.

Gaub went two innings on 55 pitches while Oakes finished the Lions off with five shutout innings.

Yet it was the first game Saturday when the Lions busted through for 12 runs in a 12-2 win.

Penn State right-hander Mark Wyner pitched a seven-inning complete game in which he struck out nine Gophers batters.

Minnesota was particularly troubled with the top half of the Lions’ batting order.

“They’re pretty scrappy guys,” coach John Anderson said. “They can put the ball into play and make contact.”

It was also the top half of the order that caused some problems Friday.

With the game tied at 2 going into the ninth inning and the Lions top hitters up to bat, the Gophers had one costly wild pitch with two outs that sent the game into a downward spiral.

The wild pitch allowed for a Penn State runner to advance to third, and then the next batter, Scott Gaffney, hit an RBI single down to right.

“We let the Friday night game get away from us,” Anderson said. “And that shouldn’t have happened.”

Minnesota wasn’t able to overcome the inning and lost the opening game 7-3.

Despite the two early losses, Kommerstad said the team knew it had to come back in the series this weekend.

“We knew we had to come back, because it’s a four game series,” he said. “I think it was a real good sign that our team was able to come back and win those last two games.”

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