Minnesota moving past disappointing 2015 season

The team sported a losing record last year and finished 9th in the Big Ten.

Redshirt Sophomore Tim Shannon pitches the ball at Siebert Field where the Gopher Mens Baseball team took on Penn State on April 18, 2015.

Liam James Doyle, Daily File Photo

Redshirt Sophomore Tim Shannon pitches the ball at Siebert Field where the Gopher Men’s Baseball team took on Penn State on April 18, 2015.

by Kaitlin Merkel

Minnesota baseball head coach John Anderson said he’s not focused on last season anymore.
The year 2015 was a dismal one for the Gophers baseball team, at least by the standards set by Anderson. Minnesota finished 21-30 last year — the team’s first losing record since 2008 and only its second overall in Anderson’s 34 years in charge. The team’s ninth-place finish in the Big Ten was tied for the worst in his tenure.
The down year also pushed the Gophers’ Big Ten regular season and tournament title drought to five years, the longest under Anderson. But right now it’s all about moving the program forward.
“First and foremost, last year’s over. … I think that this team has worked extremely hard to create a strong culture. I think that’s based on being a strong team, a collective group [with players not focused] on themselves individually,” Anderson said. “We spent a lot of this year just trying to re-center our culture and … I think we have a team that had more talent potentially than last year.”
The team has motivation to improve with the way last year ended. The team’s conference finish kept the Gophers out of the Big Ten tournament, which was held at nearby Target Field.
Instead, some Minnesota players just watched from the stands.
“I think we’ll be the first to admit that we were disappointed with how the year ended last year,” redshirt junior pitcher Tim Shannon said. “But we have a really talented group of guys, and we really think that we’re going to be a main contender in this conference this year. I think we have a little chip on our shoulder after last year for sure.”
The Gophers return 23 players to their roster this year, including 13 of their 17 pitchers from last year. Minnesota begins its season Feb. 19against Utah in Surprise, Ariz.
“I don’t see us having the type of season we had last year again. We’ve got a lot of guys back and a lot of guys who had experience this summer,” senior outfielder Dan Motl said. “I’m really excited to see what we’ve got. We’ve got a dangerous lineup to say the least.”
The Gophers will attempt to get out to a better start than last year, when the team took on ranked Houston and Texas teams in its first two series and started 0-7. Minnesota was outscored 50-7 in those games.
“I think it kind of was a snowball effect there. When you start out slow like we did last year, everyone starts to question what’s going on and it becomes more of a confidence issue,” Shannon said. “A big emphasis this year will be trying to start out strong and kind of building off that.”
Minnesota was outscored 313-238 overall on the season, in large part due to a pitching staff that had a combined 5.40 earned run average.
The team’s pitchers will try to improve by employing a more aggressive mentality, Shannon said. The Gophers will also have pitching coach Todd Oakes back for the beginning of the year, after his leukemia returned last October and he could only be around the team on a limited basis for much of last season.
Anderson is also hoping to have certain players more available on a regular basis this year. Motl and junior catcher Austin Athmann were the team’s third- and fifth-best hitters, respectively, in terms of batting average in 2015, but injuries in part caused the pair to miss a combined 27 games.
Having both in the lineup consistently would go a long way towards moving past the memories of last year.
“I’m more concerned about Motl being able to stay healthy the whole year. He is a very good player, but he hasn’t been able to do that. Austin Athmann has had two years of surgeries and hasn’t played a full year yet, and we need him to be healthy,” Anderson said. “So I’m more concerned about those two players and some of our older players being healthy and being able to play at the level I think they’re capable of.”
Ben Gotz contributed to this report.