Gophers sweep Boilermakers in four-game series

Tim Klobuchar

For all the talk about how aluminum bats inflate offensive statistics in college baseball, last year’s Gophers hit home runs at a rate that would have made dead-ball era teams wince.
They finished with a respectable total of 37 in 56 games. Minnesota got off to a slow start, hitting just four in their first 25 games.
But after burying Purdue for the second straight game Sunday, Minnesota’s tater total through its first 25 games was already at 20 — and the team had an early lead in the Big Ten race.
OK, so the four-game sweep of the Boilermakers had as much to do with strong pitching and defense as it did with muscle. But the Gophers’ power helped make the scores a little more lopsided, and the wins more convincing.
That’s what happened in 15-3 and 15-2 romps Saturday and Sunday, respectively. Minnesota hit seven home runs in the two games, turning casual wins into eye-popping ones.
“We knew coming into this year that we had to do a better job of hitting for power,” Gophers coach John Anderson said. “Home runs usually come on mistake pitches, and we’ve been getting good swings on mistakes. We’re doing a good job of getting the count in our favor.”
The sweep put the Gophers, 15-9 overall and winners of 13 of their last 14, in first place in the Big Ten. Purdue fell to 8-16 overall, 2-6 in the conference.
The long balls came from everywhere but the expected spots in the lineup — no one in the middle of the order (third through sixth) hit a homer. Instead, they came from the top (Troy Stein and Bryan Guse), the bottom (Craig Selander and Mark Groebner) or the bench (Ryan Beers).
Groebner had the biggest day of all on Sunday. The junior right fielder, who only starts against left-handed pitchers, went 4 for 4 with two home runs and seven runs batted in. He also went deep near the end of Saturday’s blowout and leads the team with four home runs.
“In batting practice, we all pretty much hit line drives,” Groebner said. “But when it comes to games, if you get a little lift on it, you see a lot of home runs.
“I’ve only hit two home runs in a game once, and that was when I was in eighth grade. The fences were pretty short, too.”
Anderson said that Groebner had always had the power potential, but just recently discovered how to use it.
“He had the tools, and we liked him coming out of high school,” Anderson said. “He was a crude player, but he worked hard for four years to get to this point. Our young guys need to look at players like Mark and see how long it takes sometimes to become a good player.”
Lost in the avalanche of runs were solid pitching performances by sophomore Adam Williams on Saturday and senior Tony Felling on Sunday. The Gophers, especially the left side of the infield, also played well on defense. Third baseman Bob Keeney and shortstop Mark Devore had several nice plays and just one error between them in the series.
Even after the rout on Sunday, Anderson first mentioned how happy he was with the pitching and defense. Minnesota needed plenty of both in the first game of the doubleheader on Saturday, the black sheep game of the series. Gophers left-hander Mike Diebolt was masterful, tossing a four-hit shutout and setting down the last 12 batters in a row as Minnesota squeaked out a 1-0 victory.
Diebolt struck out nine and walked just one, out-dueling Purdue’s Mike Hedman. First baseman Ben Griffin’s sacrifice fly in the third was the game’s only run.
“The coaches and catcher (Guse) did a good job of mixing up the pitches,” Diebolt said. “That kept them on their heels, and at the end of the game they were still off-balance.”
On Friday, second baseman Eric Welter’s sacrifice fly in the seventh broke a five-all tie as Minnesota went on to an 8-5 win.
“In my experience in this league, it’s hard to sweep anybody,” Anderson said. “When you do, it’s because you have a high level of concentration and intensity.”

SUNDAY’S SUMMARY
Purdue 001 000 100 — 2 7 1
Gophers 001 241 43x — 15 17 3
Morgan, Howard (5), Buck (8), Joros (8) and Lorek, Grieco; Felling, Zrust (8), Wagner (9) and Guse, Negen. W — Felling, 3-1. L — Morgan, 0-2. HRs — Purdue, Hallada (2); Gophers, Guse (3), Groebner 2 (4). T — 2:54. A — 211.

Gophers hitting statistics (4 games)
AB R H RBI
Stein 14 6 7 5
Quinlan 17 3 6 3
Devore 15 3 6 0
Groebner 5 4 5 9
Selander 8 3 4 2
Keeney 13 2 4 4
McDermott 10 0 4 3
Welter 13 4 4 3
Guse 12 4 4 2
Griffin 9 4 2 3
Beers 2 1 1 2
Arlt 1 2 1 0
Scanlon 1 1 1 0
Brosseau 1 0 0 0
Negen 1 0 0 0
Birk 2 2 0 0
Totals 134 39 49 36