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Opening day is here as Minn. heads south to Mississippi

For the first time ever, all NCAA teams will open the season the same weekend.

Opening Day. The words ring truer than they ever have for college baseball this season.

Minnesota and Mississippi will play their first game of the year today, as will the rest of the country under the new NCAA uniform start date.

The NCAA introduced a consistent start date because in years past, Southern schools started their season earlier because the weather complied. Northern schools waited weeks later until the weather improved or traveled to Southern sites to play and were forced to schedule 56 games in a shorter time frame.

Now every Division I baseball program has 13 weeks to complete the regular season.

“We’re trying to create some competitive equity across the country. I’m not sure this is the right answer, but at least it’s better than us going south where teams have played 10-12 games already,” Minnesota coach John Anderson said. “It’s game one for everyone.”

For the last three seasons, the Gophers played their first game against teams that had already played seven or eight games.

While the NCAA has tried to address the problem, they haven’t completely solved the issues with every team having to deal with a compact schedule.

With a truncated schedule, teams have to play more midweek games, which eats up pitching, not to mention the rising costs of travel and athletes missing class.

“We had 13 guys with a decision on our pitching staff last year. We don’t have 13 guys that are top line Division I players, but we have no choice,” Anderson said. “We have to pitch somebody to play those nine games in 10 days.”

Anderson would like to see the season expand further into the summer to best appease everyone, but he also understands the southern schools having a problem with a later start date.

“Who are we to tell somebody they can’t play in February if their weather is good enough,” Anderson said. “I feel uncomfortable telling those guys they shouldn’t be playing. I’d like to see the season have an April 1 start date, have your championship right before football gets cranked up in August and really have your own season.”

This weekend Minnesota heads south starting at square one with the No. 4 Rebels.

“The uniform start date doesn’t probably help us as much, but it’s still definitely beneficial once you get down there and play those teams when they’re both their first games of the year,” junior Tom Buske said.

Buske will get the ball today for the Gophers, followed by junior left-hander Kyle Carr. Senior right-hander Dustin Brabender will get the ball Sunday.

Those arms will have to compete against one of the top rotations in the nation – Ole Miss finished 17th in the nation last season in team ERA. The Rebels feature two preseason All-American pitchers in Lance Lynn (8-5, 2.85 ERA last year) and Cody Satterwhite (4-4, 3.31 ERA) the first two games.

Last year, at the Dairy Queen Classic, Minnesota faced Lynn and won 3-2 to split the series. Lynn went six innings and had 11 strikeouts.

“We’re going to have to play all-around great baseball,” junior Nate Hanson said. “I’m hoping we get at least two or three out of there.”

The Gophers have not settled on the corner outfield positions or on a first baseman, so this weekend has become a lesson for Anderson.

“We’re not going to focus on the scoreboard or outcome as much as we’re going to try to focus on learning more about ourselves and our team,” Anderson said. “If that can translate into some victories, then great, but I think we’re more interested to see where our team is at and start finding some roles for these people.”

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