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Gophers baseball avoids sweep against Air Force with Sunday victory

Image by Jasmin Kemp
Pitcher J.P. Massey pitches the ball during the Gophers’ 7-6 win against Texas Christian University at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn. on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2020.

Minnesota was able to win the series finale to avoid a sweep against Air Force, but missed an opportunity to take the series win.

The Gopher baseball team has fallen subject to crooked-number innings, and it has been the downfall in the first month. It makes games tougher to win when giving up multiple runs in an innings is all too common, especially when leading most of the game.

Gophers drop series opener 8-7 Friday night 

That was the case in the series opener where junior Sam Ireland got his fourth start of the year. Ireland, once again, gave his team a commanding start, striking out nine batters while allowing just one run in 5.1 innings.

In that time, the Gophers’ offense piled together five runs to give Ireland a comfortable lead. What ensued, didn’t help the case. After Ireland got knocked out in the sixth as Air Force scored its first run, the bullpen let up back-to-back innings allowing more than one run.

In the seventh, a five-run inning gave the Falcons their first lead of the game. A two-run eighth extended that lead, and Minnesota failed to rally back, dropping game one of the series after plating two in the bottom of the eighth, 8-7.

Falcons draw walks to pad Saturday win over Minnesota 

The Gopher pitchers ran into some trouble in game two, which led to a blowout that was never really close. Starter J.P. Massey pitched just 1.1 innings, where he allowed four earned runs and walked six batters. That set the tone for the rest of the game as the Falcons drew 13 total walks.

Through three innings, Air Force was already up by six runs before Minnesota even found the scoreboard. Right after the Gophers did that, the Falcons dropped an eight-bomb to go up 14-1. Minnesota had a small answer in the bottom of the fifth, but the game was out of reach.

It was the walks that led to a Game 2 disaster as the Falcons scored 15 runs on just nine hits. The Gophers didn’t have much offense, with just six hits of their own and dropped the second game 15-6.

Gophers bounce back to avoid sweep in series finale 

Minnesota was finally on the right end of a close game in the series finale. After trailing 2-0 early, the Gophers scored in back-to-back innings, including three runs in the fifth to grab a 4-2 lead. That lead wouldn’t last long after the Falcons scored four runs in the seventh to retake the lead.

Redshirt senior Jack Kelly had an outstanding day at the plate, going 3-for-4 with four RBIs. His biggest RBI of the game came in the seventh which started a three-run inning to give Minnesota a 7-6 lead.

Relief pitcher Will Semb came in and shut the door on any Falcon comeback. He pitched 2.2 innings, allowing zero runs while striking six batters out and picked up his first win as a Gopher. Minnesota completed the comeback and took the finale 7-6.

Looking ahead

Minnesota has its last non-conference away series starting Friday for a three-game series against Creighton. Coming off back-to-back wins, Creighton is .500 with a 6-6 record ahead of the series.

Minnesota seems to have found its 1-2-3 punch in Ireland, Massey and transfer starter Aidan Maldonado. Outside of Ireland, Massey and Maldonado have both shown upside to their game, but also struggles.

Maldonado has gone at least five innings in his previous two starts while allowing just five hits and two earned runs in each start. His only bad outing was his second start against Indiana State where he allowed six runs in 4.1 innings.

Massey has been a little more inconsistent in the first month. He’s had two outings going five plus innings and allowing just one earned run. But, he’s also had two outings going four or less innings and giving up four runs, his most recent against Air Force.

Kelly will need to continue his hot offensive start, and Minnesota will need catcher Chase Stanke to get back on his homerun march, as he leads the team with seven. Kelly leads the team with a .412 average, 20 RBIs and 14 runs.

Outfielders Easton Bertrand and Brett Bateman have also been key contributors to the offense this season.

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