Gophers trying to keep hot bats going

Heading into the final month of the regular season, Minnesota isn’t slowing down offensively.

Paul Cordes

Following a weekend where the Minnesota baseball team scored 53 runs in four games against Illinois, the Gophers will attempt to keep their bats hot as North Dakota State comes to town for a midweek contest.

Tonight the two teams will make up their postponed April 4 game. First pitch at Siebert Field is scheduled for 6:35 p.m.

With field conditions likely to be very different from the weekend’s slug fest in Champaign, Minnesota will have to depend on staying consistent and jumping out on top against the Bison (7-22 overall).

The Gophers are hitting .318 as a team, and senior right-fielder Kyle Baran said he thinks Minnesota needs to stay aggressive – just not overly aggressive.

“I think keep taking the same approaches to the plate and just keep swinging the bat well,” he said. “But it’s important that we don’t start pressing too hard and continue to stay relaxed up there.”

And to be sure the team is relaxed, especially now that the Gophers (30-8, 9-3 Big Ten) have entered their last guaranteed month of play, they’ll depend on senior leaders to keep the team focused and motivated.

Senior catcher Kevin Carlson said it’s important for the veterans not to get into a panic and continue to lead like they’ve done all year.

“I think a lot of the strengths this team has are in part due to the senior leadership we’ve shown this year,” he said.

That leadership is something coach John Anderson was happy to see, and he gives a lot of credit to the effort his seniors put into things starting last season.

After last year, the would-be seniors took it upon themselves to talk to former players in hopes of developing leadership skills for the upcoming season.

“The guys last year went out, got some information and have come back and applied that to help the team this year,” Anderson said. “Leadership starts with self-leadership, and if you don’t develop that self-leadership and know yourself as a person and player, you’re not going to be able to get through to the younger players who aren’t walking the talk.”

To help his team develop that self-leadership, Anderson is continuing a program developed by sports psychologist Rick Aberman, who has worked with Anderson and the Gophers for the past 14 seasons.

The team’s leadership council, made up of 15 players, meets frequently in the fall and continues the meetings into the regular season.

Anderson opened up the opportunity for anyone to join the council that he said has helped the kids who want to be leaders on the team, but just don’t know how to be.

“If 70 to 80 percent of baseball is about emotional and mental competency, then you better spend that much time focusing on those things,” he said.

“Don’t get me wrong, you have to have talent. And I think we do have a lot of talent this year, but we don’t have the recruiting base other teams do, and we’re not going to be the most talented team in the country.

“So if we can become emotionally and mentally competent, we’re going to maximize what we can do as a team,” Anderson said.

And maximize they have, as the Gophers are off to their best start since 1993 and aren’t planning on letting up as the Big Ten Tournament and NCAA regionals rapidly approach.

Rivals.com has put Minnesota at a No. 2 seed in the regionals since it started predicting the 64-team field, and Baran said the seniors are ready to roll and hopes the younger players will be along for the ride.

“We’re ready to do what we have to do to keep winning,” Baran said. “Our ultimate goal is to win a championship and for us seniors this is our last chance. We’d love to have the younger guys come join us.”