Minnesota welcomed a pair of nonconference foes and a soon-to-be familiar opponent to town for the annual Dairy Queen Classic and won the tournament with a 2-2 record.
The Gophers split a pair of games with New Mexico State and beat West Virginia before falling to Nebraska in the final game of the event.
The winner of the tournament is decided by run differential and despite the .500 record, Minnesota won with a plus-five run margin.
Gophers head coach John Anderson said he was encouraged by his team’s progress offensively.
“I think we tried to simplify our approach at the plate,” he said. “We’re squaring up the ball more and making more quality contact.”
Minnesota was indeed much better offensively in its victories — it had eight and 11 runs, respectively — but it combined for just four runs in its two losses.
The Gophers and NMSU battled Thursday in the first game of the tournament, and Aggies starter Michael Ormseth tossed a gem.
Ormseth allowed just one run in eight innings and struck out five. Five Gophers hurlers held the Aggies to one run through eight innings, too, but NMSU scored three runs in the top of the ninth to beat Minnesota 4-1.
Gophers reliever Billy Soule gave up a go-ahead two-run double after Ben Meyer had allowed back-to-back singles. NMSU tacked on one more for good measure to hold on for the win. Meyer was charged with the loss.
Anderson said that the team has yet to decide on a closer, and that it’s going to be “closer by committee” for a while going forward.
Roles were reversed Friday, however. TJ Oakes continued his early-season dominance. Minnesota’s ace struck out seven batters in 5.2 innings, allowing just one run, to pick up his third win of the season.
Right-fielder Bobby Juan helped resurrect Minnesota’s dormant offense with a big day at the plate. Juan was 3-for-4 with three RBI and helped key a six-run fifth inning. Third baseman Dan Olinger was 2-for-4 with an RBI single.
“We were a little bit more aggressive,” Olinger said. “We’re attacking pitches early in the count and that’s the key. … We jumped on a lot of pitches early, and [batted balls] fell in for us.”
Kevin Kray slammed the door with 3.1 innings of scoreless relief and the Gophers cruised to an 8-1 victory.
Minnesota used that formula to clobber West Virginia 11-3 on Saturday. The Gophers scored six runs in the first two innings.
Second baseman Matt Puhl was 3-for-5 with three RBI, and Olinger was 3-for-4 and had two RBI. Starter Tom Windle allowed two earned runs in 5.2 innings to improve to 2-1.
Minnesota hitters struck out 23 times in four games this weekend — down from the 30 times in four games last weekend. Puhl, the tournament MVP, said that’s where the greatest strides were made.
“Sometimes you’ve just got to throw the bat on the ball and good things will happen,” Puhl said. “That’s what happened this weekend. Hopefully we can carry that on.”
Big Ten foe Nebraska proved Sunday to be much more formidable than Minnesota’s other opponents. The Huskers roughed up Gophers starter Austin Lubinsky and held a 7-0 lead after four innings.
Minnesota scored a run in the fifth inning and in the sixth inning, and shortstop Michael Handel hit his first career home run — a solo shot to left.
But it wasn’t nearly enough, and the Gophers fell 10-3. Lubinsky is 0-2 this year.
“We did a little scouting on them, wrote a few things down,” Puhl said of Nebraska. “I think guys are going to learn from that.”