Minnesota holds own against nationally ranked opponents

Paul Cordes

Despite blizzard-like conditions that prevented The Citadel from arriving to Minneapolis, the Dairy Queen Classic went on as the Minnesota baseball team split a pair of games both Saturday and Sunday at the Metrodome.

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when: 6:35 p.m. Wednesday
where: Metrodome

The original round robin tournament format was modified and the Gophers played double-headers on Saturday and Sunday.

Against No. 24 Ole Miss Saturday, Minnesota put up a three-run eighth inning to grab a 3-2 win in the first game, but dropped the second game 9-4.

Minnesota (5-2 overall) then lost its first matchup against No. 5 Arkansas 5-1 on Sunday before its 10-5 win to end the weekend.

The Razorbacks are the highest ranked team the Gophers have beat since back in 2003 when Minnesota took two games from No. 2 Cal State Fullerton. Both Arkansas (10-5) and Ole Miss are ranked in all four of the major college baseball polls.

Coach John Anderson said to be able to get a couple of wins against this caliber of teams is big.

“Hopefully we get some confidence out of these wins,” he said. “To be able to come out and split games with two great teams, especially at this point in the season – it shows we can play with anybody.”

And it will be a rarity for Minnesota to get to play against the caliber of teams it saw this weekend.

Arkansas junior left-hander Nick Schmidt came out and shut down the Gophers in the first game Sunday as he went the distance allowing just five hits and one run coming off a solo blast from senior shortstop Dan Lyons.

But following the tough game against one of the top pitchers in the country, Minnesota came out swinging and was able to string together 15 hits and six earned runs in game two.

Sophomore third baseman Nate Hanson, who collected three hits and drove in two runs in the win over the Razorbacks, said timely hitting was key.

“It’s really important that we get timely hitting and drive in runners in scoring position,” he said. “Timely hits are what put you on the board.”

And one of the hottest sticks in the lineup right out of the gates for Minnesota is that of senior leftfielder Mike Mee.

Mee had multiple hits in every game leading into the weekend and two hits in each of the games against Ole Miss (9-4) kept that streak alive.

Mee finished the tournament going six of thirteen from the plate with three RBI’s and also managed to draw four walks.

“(Mee) has been big for us early this year,” Anderson said. “Last year he would hit the ball hard a lot, but he hit it right at people, so things are kind of evening out for him right now.”

The Gophers’ pitching staff had a tough assignment this weekend against a pair of good hitting teams.

Minnesota’s pitchers were still on limited pitch counts coming into the weekend and a lot of arms got work in the four games.

Senior right-hander Marcus McKenzie and sophomore left-hander Kyle Carr picked up the two wins for the Gophers and for the most part the rest of Minnesota’s staff was solid.

The majority of the Gophers’ problems came from lead-off hitters finding a way on base and Minnesota pitchers falling behind in the count.

Junior right-hander Ethan Vogt, who pitched four and a third innings against Arkansas giving up just one earned run and struck out five, said getting ahead of batters is crucial.

“That’s something that coaches are always stressing to us,” he said. “We have to get ahead of batters, and keep lead-off men off base in order to be competitive.”