Streaking Gophers hit road

Minnesota brings a six-game winning streak into its road series with Illinois.

by Paul Cordes

Siebert Field has been a friendly place for the Minnesota baseball team for the past three weeks, as the Gophers have lost just one game there this season.

But Minnesota will have a new challenge as it heads on the road to play a game on an opponent’s home field for the first time since April 1.

The Gophers travel to Champaign, Ill., for a four-game set with Illinois, with today’s opener starting at 6:30 p.m.

A pair of seven-inning affairs is slated for Saturday starting at 2 p.m., and the series finale will take place Sunday at 1 p.m.

The Gophers (27-7 overall, 9-2 Big Ten) enter the series with a six-game win streak, and quite a bit of momentum after a series sweep of Michigan State last weekend and a pair of wins over South Dakota State on back-to-back Wednesdays.

But Wednesday’s game against the Jackrabbits was less than perfect, and coach John Anderson expressed some worry about his team’s focus.

“I thought we had some guys in the dugout who were asked to play and weren’t ready to play because they weren’t really connected to the game,” Anderson said after his team’s 9-4 win over South Dakota State on Wednesday. “I was a little disappointed in our team and some of the guys on the bench.

“I didn’t see the same connection or the same energy that I’ve seen before, so we’ll see if we can correct that,” he said.

And to be successful against the Illini, that lack of enthusiasm might need to be corrected relatively quickly.

Just 48 hours after its 12th comeback win of the season, Minnesota will play at a friendly ballpark to hitters if the weather conditions are right.

And against the Illini (19-17, 7-2), who have the second best batting average in the conference at .333, the Gophers won’t want to fall behind.

“Illinois is a quality club, and playing them on the road is going to be tough,” senior left fielder Mike Mee said. “We need to come out and swing the sticks right away and see if we can put up a couple runs early.”

And with just four conference series remaining, every Big Ten game takes on a new meaning.

Minnesota sits comfortably at the two spot in the Big Ten with No. 20 Michigan, the lone leader with just one league loss, forcing the Gophers to play nearly perfect ball from here on out if they want a chance to win the Big Ten regular season championship.

But sophomore first baseman Bryan Jost said Minnesota needs to focus on what they can control.

“We just have to take things one game at a time. Can’t look too far ahead,” he said. “We have to worry about ourselves, not them, and try to get a victory every night.”

Vogt still sidelined, Buske still on the mound

Junior right-hander Ethan Vogt missed his last two Friday night Big-Ten starts with a shoulder injury, and he’ll miss his third tonight.

Anderson said Vogt was cleared by doctors to start throwing again, but it will be a while before Vogt makes another appearance.

Vogt’s return date is still unknown, but he’ll begin getting his arm retrained to pitch, and the coaching staff will go from there.

“We have to get him in the throwing program, and we have to build his arm back up and get him ready to pitch again,” Anderson said. “He’ll be on the throwing program here for seven to 10 days, and then we’ll have a better idea where we’re at.”

With Vogt out, sophomore right-hander Tom Buske has gotten the start and has performed well for the Gophers.

Buske is coming off a gem last Friday against Michigan State, where he pitched seven and one-third innings, giving up just four hits and one earned run.

Anderson said Buske has earned his chance to get out on the mound, especially after his work ethic in the offseason.

“(Buske) has worked really hard in the last year to make some adjustments physically, mentally and emotionally,” Anderson said. “He’s going out there and attacking the strike zone and doing a great job for us.”