U wins 3 of 4 from Boilermakers

Aaron Blake

Each facing a bases-loaded jam in the first inning of their starts, Minnesota baseball pitchers Jay Gagner and Matt Loberg chose different paths this weekend.

On Saturday, Gagner settled himself down and recorded three straight outs without allowing one run. On Sunday, Loberg gave up a grand slam two pitches later as Purdue’s John Hunter spanked his first of three home runs on the day.

The pair of half-innings set the tones for their respective days after Glen Perkins threw a complete-game shutout Friday.

The Boilermakers destroyed the Gophers 15-6 on Sunday. But thanks to strong starting pitching performances by Perkins on Friday and Gagner and Craig Molldrem on Saturday, Minnesota won three of four games over the weekend and remains in a tie for first place in the Big Ten.

The Gophers (26-16, 13-7 Big Ten) beat Purdue (21-21, 10-10) 7-0 on Friday, 6-3 in the first game Saturday and 2-0 in the second game Saturday.

“I told them (after Sunday) baseball is a humbling game,” Minnesota coach John Anderson said. “One day, you’re on top of the world; 24 hours later, you’re at the bottom.”

On Sunday, Loberg pitched to just two more batters before being pulled with 1/3 of an inning to his credit and eventually being charged with five earned runs.

The bullpen provided little relief as Andy Peters yielded three runs in the second, Cole DeVries allowed four in the fourth and Brian Bull gave up three at the end of the game. Freshman John Gaub was the only Gophers pitcher to leave unscathed, pitching three shutout innings in the fifth, sixth and seventh.

Besides the grand slam, Hunter knocked a three-run homer in the second inning and a two-run shot in the eighth. He was 3-for-4 with nine RBIs, four runs scored and a walk.

“It’s hard to sweep a team in a four-game series,” Molldrem said. “To put all the phases together four games in a row is tough.”

But thanks to performances like Molldrem’s, the Gophers didn’t need Sunday’s game for the series win.

Depsite a shoulder problem that kept him out of last weekend’s series at Northwestern, Molldrem started Saturday’s second game. One hour and 38 minutes later, the guy whose coach was going to use him “sparingly” had a 2-0 complete-game shutout.

“We thought it would be better for me to start so I wouldn’t have to warm up in a situation,” he said. “We just kept going on an inning-by-inning approach.”

Molldrem pitched seven innings, struck out two and allowed six hits and no walks. Right fielder Sean Kommerstad’s RBI single in the bottom of the fifth was the game winner.

The second game Saturday was basically a continuation of the first.

In that game, Gagner got out of the initial jam and ended up throwing 5 2/3 innings and allowing just two earned runs on eight hits and four walks.

After his first Big Ten start of the year, the senior said he’s easing into his team role with solid outings in each of his last four appearances.

“The confidence factor is big,” he said. “I struggled with it last year, but it’s not a problem this year.”

A four-run bottom of the fifth spurred by Andy Hunter’s 2-RBI single turned a 2-2 tie into a 6-2 Gophers lead.

Gaub earned his first career save by getting the final out in the seventh.

Perhaps the most dominating performance this weekend came Friday, though, when Perkins moved his career mark versus Big Ten foes to 14-0.

His nine-inning, seven strikeout, four-hit masterpiece was his first shutout this season.

Sam Steidl, Matt Fornasiere and Jake Elder all hit home runs in the fifth inning to give the Gophers a 5-0 lead. Steidl’s homer was the first of his three-plus year Minnesota career.

By the end of the game Sunday, Minnesota had three solid games and one gaudy performance by Purdue’s offense to reflect on.

“We had three very good starts this weekend,” Gagner said. “It was bad on Sunday. But with anybody we could’ve thrown out there, they would’ve hit the ball.”