Flawless fielding bolsters baseball team

Brian Stensaas

Shortly after the final out of the Dairy Queen Classic baseball game between Minnesota and No. 16 Nebraska on March 2, one number on the Metrodome scoreboard stuck out like no other.

Six.

The digit, nestled in the bottom right of the line score, represented the number of errors the Gophers committed in a 15-2 loss to the Cornhuskers. One could go ahead and blame the Dome’s lightning-quick turf surface for the blemishes, but team personnel weren’t about to make excuses.

“That’s not Minnesota baseball,” said assistant head coach Rob Fornasiere, who oversees defensive schemes. “We weren’t happy. Starting three seniors and a sophomore in the infield, we expect a little more consistency than that.”

Ask and ye shall receive.

Last weekend, the Gophers played host to No. 2 Cal State Fullerton at the Dome. Minnesota not only took two of three games from the Titans but did not bobble a single ball the entire weekend.

“We talked a lot last week in practice about playing good defense,” second baseman Luke Appert said. “We didn’t worry about who we were playing; we just went out, got a lead and realized we could beat a team like that.”

History has proven that when Minnesota is on its defensive game, it is a tough team to beat. Heading into this season, statistical analysis done by the coaching staff over the past 20 seasons shows the Gophers win 76 percent of their games when committing one error or less.

This year, in Minnesota’s six wins the team has committed only five errors. But at the same time, players know that not every game out is going to be perfect.

“It’s the nature of baseball,” first baseman David Roach said. “Some days you just don’t have it. We made mistakes (against Nebraska), but we can’t let that get to us the next time out.”

Beginning Friday, the Gophers endure a grueling nine-game road trip to California over spring break including games on six-straight days. The elements will be much different than those of the Dome. The natural grass will affect the ball differently, and the natural light could have an impact on sight lines.

But for some of the team members, it doesn’t matter where the game is being played. The added confidence of an error-free weekend against one of the nation’s hottest teams is reason enough to be looking forward to more games.

“You feel pretty good after beating the No. 2 team,” shortstop Scott Welch said. “It’s kind of been a question, ‘How good are we?’ Winning (last weekend) answered a lot. Now we just want to keep rolling.”

As long as it’s not a ball between their feet, that’s not a bad plan.

Hunter, Gagner honored

Freshman catcher Andy Hunter and junior pitcher Jay Gagner were honored as the Big Ten player and pitcher of the week, respectively, for their showings last week.

Playing in the weekend series with Cal State Fullerton and the Gophers’ midweek tilt with Minnesota-Duluth, Hunter batted .667 with five RBIs. He was clutch against the Titans, going 3-for-4 with an RBI in Sunday’s 8-7 win.

Gagner, meanwhile, pitched seven innings of shutout ball in Friday’s opener with Cal State Fullerton, ending the Titans’ seven-game win streak. He allowed only two hits to a team, averaging nearly 10 runs per game, and that harassed defending national champion Texas for 14 runs a week prior.

In the process, Gagner handed Titans ace Ryan Schreppel his first loss as a collegiate pitcher.