Gophers seek improvement against nonconference foes

Minnesota welcomes West Virginia, Nebraska and New Mexico State to the Metrodome for the annual Dairy Queen Classic.

by Samuel Gordon

Major League Baseball teams have 20-30 spring training games to make improvements, finalize the roster and prepare for the rigorous regular season.

The Gophers have zero.

“Unfortunately, we don’t have spring training,” Minnesota head coach John Anderson said. “The [early season] games count but at the same time, you’re trying to learn about your team.”

The Gophers (3-4) will get a chance for some more self-discovery this weekend when they welcome Nebraska (4-3), West Virginia (3-4) and New Mexico State (7-3) to the Metrodome for the Dairy Queen Classic.

The four-team tournament is now in its 28th year and is back in Minneapolis after taking place in Arizona a year ago.

Minnesota has learned one thing early on — it will need to score more runs if it wants to stay competitive.

The Gophers scored eight runs in four games last weekend and although their starting pitching was formidable, it’s tough to win consistently without more scoring.

Minnesota put only one run on the board in three of four games against Wisconsin-Milwaukee and struck out 30 times collectively.

“We obviously know that we have a good pitching staff and that we can play defense,” second baseman Matt Puhl said.

“Hitting is going to be key for us. We need to put up five, six runs a game, put some quality at-bats together and definitely limit the strikeouts.”

Minnesota ace TJ Oakes acknowledged that pitching without any run support adds pressure to the starters but said he doesn’t worry about it too much.

“You’ve just got to pitch your game and trust that the offense will get some runs along the way,” he said.

Anderson, who’s in his 31st year at the helm, said it generally takes 20 to 25 games to get a true sense of a player’s ability.

“That’s why [the pros] have spring training. That’s what it’s about, trying to get your team ready for the season,” he said. “You’re trying to learn about them. They’re trying to learn about themselves. You’re trying to make adjustments.”

There are just two senior position players on the roster this year — outfielder Trip Schultz and third baseman Kyle Geason — and the team’s inexperience is evident thus far.

How the young players mature will ultimately determine how successful the club can be, Anderson said.

“They’re going to have to learn to handle their stress and learn to be comfortable in the game environment and in the practice environment,” he said. “That’s why it takes 20 to 25 games to get settled in.”

The Gophers will get a sneak-peak at Big Ten foe Nebraska this weekend, which could be advantageous come conference play.

“We’ll probably see them all three times here. We’ll get a good scouting report on their hitters and a good scouting report on all three of their pitchers,” Oakes said. “We should be prepared for them next time when we head to Nebraska at the end of the year.”