Baseball wins two at Hormel Classic

Jim Schortemeyer

The Minnesota baseball team finally settled down and produced decent results at this weekend’s Hormel Classic.
After getting spanked by McNeese State in three straight games a week ago, coaches were looking to improve just about everything about the team.
What followed at the Classic was a well-rounded performance — mostly. Minnesota (5-7) won its first two games before dropping to Wake Forest on Sunday.
“Down south, we were seeing who can play,” senior centerfielder Mike Arlt said. “There were a lot of injuries and young guys playing. When we get back home here, we start to play with a more regular lineup.”
In Minnesota’s two wins, it was pitching that carried the day. Sophomore righty Mike Kobow blew away Georgia hitters Friday night to earn a 7-1 Minnesota win.
Bolstered by a four-run first inning, Kobow went eight innings and started the ninth before getting pulled by pitching coach Todd Oakes. He gave up just one run on five hits.
“That was a huge outing by Kobow,” Oakes said. “We had him scheduled for 75 pitches and then he threw 115. That’s a clutch performance.”
After a shaky first inning, Kobow settled down, striking out six batters over his eight-plus innings. The trick? He went back to basics.
“In the first, I was trying to throw a perfect game,” Kobow said. “Then I settled down and just started throwing strikes.”
Kobow’s solid starting performance was followed by a strong relief appearance from Bob DeWitt against No. 25 Notre Dame.
DeWitt pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings to preserve a 9-7 win over the Irish. Oakes was particularly impressed by the ninth inning, where DeWitt retired the side in order.
“That’s probably the best I’ve seen Bobby pitch,” Oakes said.
The pitching theme rolled into the final game of the weekend, an afternoon tilt Sunday with No. 24 Wake Forest. The game was a comeback for Minnesota starter Ben Birk.
Birk hadn’t started a home game since 1998. He missed last season with a nerve injury in his throwing arm and pitched 2 1/3 innings last weekend on the road.
After going 8-2 with a 2.65 ERA in ’98, the coaching staff was happy to see their ace back on the mound.
“It’s a joy for us to see Ben out there,” Oakes said. “There was some doubt if we’d ever get him out there. He had a little setback about six weeks ago, but he’s doing all right now.”
Birk was scheduled to make just 55-60 pitches before the game, so it wasn’t a surprise he lasted just 2 1/3 innings. He pitched two scoreless innings before getting shelled for five runs in the third inning.
But it’s not like anybody else did any better against the Demon Deacons — the next three Minnesota pitchers all gave up at least two runs in the 13-6 loss.
While the loss Sunday wasn’t any icing on the Gophers’ cake, the Classic did provide some footing for a turnaround. Two wins and one loss against ranked competition isn’t a bad start.
“It’s a big weekend for us, especially after last weekend,” Oakes said. “We didn’t pitch, we didn’t field, we didn’t hit very well last weekend.
“It’s a different team this weekend. But we’ve still got a lot of work to do.”

Jim Schortemeyer welcomes comments at [email protected]