Baseball three wins shy of another Big Ten title

by Anthony Maggio

After Minnesota’s baseball team wrote down its goals before the season started, coach John Anderson left the team with one message.

“You say a lot of things, but words don’t do it for you,” Anderson said. “Are you going to back up what you put up there by what you do on a day-to-day basis?”

Starting with day one, the Gophers have. With eight games left in the season, Minnesota is three wins away from clinching the Big Ten title. But as the Gophers learned last year, while a Big Ten title is sweet, the NCAA tournament committee can still be sour.

Minnesota finished 18-10 in the conference last season to win the regular season title. But after losing the championship game of the Big Ten tournament – and the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament – to Ohio State, the Gophers and their 32-26 overall record were left out of the NCAA tournament field.

“I know from the day the season ended last year they had a bitter taste in their mouth because they didn’t get back to the NCAA tournament,” Anderson said. “They had a chance to make history, go five years in a row to the NCAAs is something we haven’t done. They weren’t happy about it.”

With the NCAA snub in mind, the disgruntled Gophers came up with three goals for this season.

“One was to win the Big Ten crown,” senior Luke Appert said. “The other two were to be in the top 25 in the country and be in the top 50 RPI, strength of schedule.”

So far, so good.

Up five games on the second-place Buckeyes, three wins at Iowa this weekend will earn Minnesota its first back-to-back conference championship since 1973-74.

After sweeping Purdue last weekend, the Gophers are ranked 24th in the Collegiate Baseball top-30 poll. And according to Boyd’s World, a Web site that mimics the Ratings Power Index – the official NCAA measure of team quality used by the tournament selection committee – Minnesota has an RPI of 33.

“It really gives us confidence that we do belong in the NCAA tournament,” shortstop Scott Welch said. “Coming into the Big Ten season playing pretty well, we know we should be there and we belong there and we should get there.”

But nothing is written in stone. Minnesota has never won the regular season and conference tournament in the same year. The Gophers have already reached their win total from a year ago. Like last year, Anderson feels his team has played at a level deserving of an NCAA berth, but thinks this season his Gophers have the numbers to prove it.

“If you’re in a major conference and you win your league and you have more Division I wins than losses, I think that to me is justification.”

Anthony Maggio covers baseball and welcomes comments at [email protected]