Gophers eke out victory over Jackrabbits

Minnesota won its eighth one-run game of the season Wednesday afternoon.

Paul Cordes

The long ball isn’t necessarily something the Minnesota baseball team has depended on heavily this season, but it got the job done Wednesday afternoon.

The Gophers strung together four home runs at a breezy Siebert Field to take down South Dakota State 7-6 as Minnesota is now 8-2 in one-run games on the year.

Sophomore third baseman Nate Hanson doubled his home run total of the year, hitting his third and fourth home runs of the season, and is now the Gophers’ first player to have a multi-home run game since Andy Hunter did it on April 22 of last year.

“I was just relaxed up there,” Hanson said. “Their pitcher was working a lot of our guys on the outer part of the plate so I was just looking to hit the ball up the middle or the other way and it worked out for me pretty well.”

That relaxed attitude was mutual amongst Hanson’s teammates as well.

Joining Hanson in the slugfest was senior shortstop Dan Lyons, both of whom helped the Gophers to a four-run first inning with each of them belting out two-run homers.

And it didn’t stop there.

Lyons, who makes his way to the plate with Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel” playing as his intro song, said he likes Michael Jackson and joked that the song just makes him feel good.

And his double and run he added in the third was certainly making him feel good as he and Hanson combined for a 5-for-8 day at the plate with three home runs, four runs, and six RBIs.

“We started knocking the ball over the field right away against their starter,” Lyons said. “But this game was a little closer than we had hoped. Overall though, I think we need the close games and I think in the end they’re going to help us to be a better team.”

And the Jackrabbits (17-14 overall) did keep it close and kept the pressure on through nine innings.

After Minnesota’s first inning burst, South Dakota State answered with a four run inning of its own in the second.

Any time Minnesota (22-6, 5-2 Big Ten) tried to pull away, the Jackrabbits found a way to answer, but the Gophers’ seventh run in the seventh courtesy of sophomore center fielder Matt Nohelty’s first career home run put South Dakota State’s ninth-inning rally one run short.

Coach John Anderson said it was no easy task playing the Jackrabbits, a team he called a very competitive group of players.

“They’re a good team,” Anderson said. “They haven’t played a home game yet this year, so they’re comfortable on the road and they looked comfortable out there. They’re no pushovers, and they gave us a good challenge today.”

A challenge that the Gophers are now looking to turn into some momentum for this weekend.

Once again, Anderson was able to get a lot of players in the game to keep more than just his starters on their toes.

Fifteen different Minnesota hitters got at bats and the Gophers used five pitchers on the hill to get the job done.

Anderson said there are times he’s going to have to go to his role players to come up big and wants to get kids in the game when he has the chance.

“I tried to play more people and get more guys in the game. I don’t like guys to sit on the bench all the time, and you have to use your bench some if you want to win and we’re going to need these guys some time during the season,” he said. “These guys deserve the chance to get out there and they’ve earned the right to play.”