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Ireland finds early season success amid slow start from Gophers

In his third season with Minnesota, Ireland is becoming one of the top starting pitchers in the Big Ten.
Image by Kelly Hagenson
Pitcher Sam Ireland throws from the mound at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minn. in a game against the United States Air Force Academy Falcons on March 11, 2022. Photo courtesy of Gopher Athletics.

There hasn’t been much success from the Gophers baseball team through its first month of play. However, junior Sam Ireland has shown that he can be the ace for Minnesota in his third season.

For the past two seasons, Ireland played both as a position player and as a pitcher while getting at-bats at the plate. However, his slash line wasn’t the best last year, .212/.257/.273, and this season Ireland has yet to be at the plate.

That’s little concern for the 6-foot-4 starting pitcher who has allowed just five earned runs in a team-high 23.2 innings pitched. The right-handed pitcher has been dominant in all four of his starts, setting his team up for a win in each outing.

“Last year I was a two-way [player], this year I just decided to focus on my pitching side. So I think just my body, staying in shape and getting all my lifts in really has been the key so far,” Ireland said.

In all four starts, he’s gone at least five innings, while allowing two runs or less in those outings. After striking out just five in his first start, Ireland has become a more dominant strikeout-pitcher in his previous three. He has 32 on the season, which puts him in first by a long shot on the team.

Though Ireland is 2-0 with a 1.90 ERA, he very easily could’ve been credited with a win in all four of his outings. Each of his past two outings, Ireland has left the game with his team in front. Both times, Minnesota has dropped the game by one run.

The Gophers have dropped a couple close games, two of them being against top-25 ranked teams. Four of Minnesota’s losses have been by two runs or less with a one-run loss against then-No. 25 West Virginia and a two-run loss to then-No.12 Notre Dame.

“There’s a lot of talent here, we just got to execute a little bit more. We’re gonna have a lot of fun going forward, and I think we have a good team,” Ireland said. “Keeping close with those teams really put it into perspective that we have a good enough team to compete at that level.”

Minnesota’s ace has put his team in spots to win every game, and that comes from his opponent batting average which is .184 and puts him at eighth in the Big Ten. However, he runs into trouble with his nine walks and three hit batters.

His opponent batting average isn’t the only thing that puts him among the best in the Big Ten. His strikeouts is third best, ERA is fifth, innings pitched is fifth and is among 12 pitchers to not have a loss yet.

This start has been nearly perfect for Ireland, but it isn’t totally unpredictable. Last season, Ireland showed signs of what he could bring to the Maroon & Gold. He had three starts last season where he allowed less than two earned runs while going at least six innings.

The Gophers are right around the corner to be able to play at their home stadium at Siebert Field.

“It’s gonna be really nice, it kind of gets old at US Bank stadium after a little bit,” Ireland said. “Just going in there everyday excited, ‘Oh we’re at US Bank,’ it’s kind of going away. It’s gonna be really nice to just be outside in warm weather.”

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