Offense slow as Gophers split with Wildcats

EVANSTON, Ill.– When the team leader in hits doesn’t get a hit until the fifth inning of game four of a series, things usually aren’t going well for a baseball team’s offense. The common reason: dominating opposing pitchers.
That was the case for the Gophers and shortstop Rick Brosseau this weekend against Northwestern, as Minnesota (22-15, 8-4 Big Ten) could only pull out a split against the Wildcats.
It took the junior 10 at-bats before he finally doubled Sunday. But Brosseau wasn’t alone when it came to offensive troubles.
Minnesota could only manage eight runs through the first three games, something that didn’t make coach John Anderson happy.
“We didn’t swing the bats well enough to provide the offense we needed to win,” Anderson said. “That’s the big part, we didn’t score the runs.”
It wasn’t so much a lack of offensive production for the Gophers as it was dominating pitching from Northwestern.
In the first three games, the three Wildcats starting pitchers allowed just 16 hits over 23 innings.
“We have young hitters,” Minnesota pitcher Ben Birk said. “And that’s going to happen, especially on the road.”
Luckily for the Gophers, their lack of offense wasn’t enough to sink all their hopes. Minnesota won the series opener 4-1 on Friday and woke up the bats in time for a series split in game four.
Sunday was a new day for Minnesota’s bats, and the Gophers proved it by scoring 12 runs, four more than in the first three games combined, in a 12-4 win.
The key, said Anderson, was jumping out to an early 4-0 lead in the first inning.
“If you study us, we play a lot better when we get the lead than when we get behind,” Anderson said. “That’s probably because we don’t have a lot of offense experience.”
One of Minnesota’s offensive stars was rightfielder Chris Guetzlaff, who went 3-for-5 and crossed the plate four times.
“We just need to get hits early, because that’s what gives us confidence,” Guetzlaff said. “Both games that we won we hit early and it carried throughout the rest of the game.”
While Minnesota couldn’t get its bats going until Sunday, the Wildcats (18-17, 4-8) had things going Saturday. Coach Paul Stevens, who called the Gophers an “awfully good team,” said he was pleased with the way his players swung the bats.
“The bottom line is our kids have played pretty well within the Big Ten,” Stevens said. “If we get a few hits, like we did (Saturday), I feel we can play with a lot of people, we just haven’t hit in key situations.”
The Wildcats roughed up both Gophers starters Kelly Werner and Chadd Clarey in the doubleheader. The two lasted a combined five innings and gave up a total of 11 runs, as Northwestern won the two sandwiched games of the series 4-2 and 8-2.
But Birk said the performances by Werner and Clarey don’t signal a downfall in the Gophers staff.
“We’ve had outstanding pitching the entire year. It was just one of those days where they didn’t have their stuff,” Birk said. “But it’s not like Northwestern hit them hard, the balls just found the holes.”

John R. Carter covers baseball and welcomes comments at [email protected]