U hitters wake up during weekend

by Tim Klobuchar

Northern Illinois pitching turned out to be the antidote for several struggling hitters on the Gophers baseball team this weekend.
Minnesota (6-8) scored 31 runs against the Huskies in three games at the Metrodome, increasing its team batting average from .259 to .291 during that span.
A few players benefitted the most from Huskies’ pitching. Sophomore Robb Quinlan had been in an early season slump until the weekend. He hit three doubles on Friday and on Saturday had three more hits.
Quinlan hit .325 as a freshman and has batted in the top half of the order for most of the year, despite his struggles, showing how much the Gophers need his offense as well as demonstrating the confidence that Coach John Anderson has in him.
“I hit some balls hard and got some to fall in that didn’t before,” Quinlan said. “I feel good up there now.”
Senior outfielder Troy Stein’s forte is his defense, but he also hit .286 last season, far better than his .222 average coming into the weekend. Mostly because of his 5-for-5 explosion on Sunday, Stein raised that number by almost 100 points this weekend.
Meanwhile, opponents’ batting averages also continued to rise. Mike Diebolt had a good outing on Saturday, giving up two runs in eight innings. But the Gophers’ other two starters, Justin Pederson and Kai Freeman (filling in for the injured Brad Pautz), lasted a total of just seven innings.
Although the team’s earned run average is a lofty 6.42, Anderson said he isn’t worried quite yet.
“We’re unsettled on that side,” Anderson said of the pitching staff. “And until we get toward the end of April, it’ll be a little unsettled.”
Bleacher Creatures
When under 500 fans attend a baseball game, as was the case for all three games at the Metrodome this weekend, it’s not hard to have your voice heard. That made the Northern Illinois fans who sat along the third base line on Saturday all the more prominent.
They had more chants than a religious cult, and also took great pleasure in heckling Gophers third baseman Bob Keeney, presumably because he was the closest target.
The fans turned out to be former Northern Illinois baseball players. All of them are fairly recent graduates, because the Huskies didn’t restart their baseball program until 1991. They didn’t have a winning season until 1995.
Joe “Spanky” MacFarland coached all the rowdy alumni who were in the stands.
“They weren’t that good,” he said. “But they’re good guys.”
Hit and Run
ù The Gophers do not play until March 23. They have six games against Chicago State, Northern Iowa and UW-Milwaukee before opening their Big Ten season against Purdue March 28-30. All games are at the Dome.
ù Pautz has a sprained ligament in his right elbow but is expected back in time for the Big Ten season.
ù Anderson, on Sunday’s 14-10 win, which lasted three hours, 37 minutes: “I can summarize it best by saying when you have aluminum bats, Astroturf, bad defense and average to below-average pitching, that’s the box score you end up with.”