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“Challengers” releases in theaters on April 26.
Review: “Challengers”
Published April 13, 2024

Minnesota baseball looking ahead after rough season

The Gophers finished 18-34, failing to reach postseason baseball for their fifth consecutive season.
In-fielder+Jake+Perry+winds+up+a+throw+to+first+base+for+an+out.
Image by Photo courtesy of Gopher Athletics
In-fielder Jake Perry winds up a throw to first base for an out.

Another season of Gophers baseball wrapped up in May without a playoff appearance. The team finished with an 18-34 record, 10th in the Big Ten. The 2023 season, however, showed promise and hope for the future with underclassmen stepping into significant roles.

Non-conference play was the anchor to the Gophers’ season, with an 8-20 record. Their confidence heading into Big Ten play was nonexistent. However, Minnesota won their first Big Ten series against Ohio State.

The Gophers had a chance to make the Big Ten tournament at the end of the year. However, they needed help from Indiana and Nebraska to sweep the series against Purdue and Michigan State.

Minnesota carried their weight and won two of the last three Big Ten series, but it was not enough to get them into the postseason.

Injuries plagued the roster from opening day to the season’s final game. Catcher Sam Hunt got injured early in the season, limiting Minnesota to two catchers. Pitchers T.J. Egan and Sam Kennedy suffered season-ending injuries, restricting the flexibility the pitching staff had to work with throughout the year.

Fans felt like it was a disappointing season, but the development and improvement have brought growing anticipation for next year.

Junior Brett Bateman became the leader of the squad both on and off the field and improved both offensively and defensively.

The centerfielder’s numbers on offense added game-winning support while his home run robberies limited drastic changes in score and boosted morale.

Bateman posted career-best numbers in batting average (.354), doubles (10), slugging percentage (.407), walks (31), on-base percentage (.450) and tied career high with 67 hits.

When asked about what helped him improve for the 2023 season, Bateman said, “Most of my focus was on my strength prior to the 2023 season; being able to increase my strength gives me stronger abilities at the plate, in the field defensively, and on the basepaths.”

Not only was Bateman great on offense, but his defense was impeccable, registering a perfect season at center field. The junior from Arden Hills, Minnesota did not make a single error all season, while making highlight reel catches every week.

On how he improved defensively in his junior season, Bateman said a “large focus on the offseason was increasing first-step quickness and speed overall. With this hard work in the winter, I was able to cover even more ground than usual.”

The work Bateman put in during the offseason was on full display during the 2023 season and has him on the MLB teams’ radars as the draft approaches.

Another player, sophomore Jake Perry improved dramatically, earning him the starting third baseman position for Minnesota in his second year.

Perry took advantage of the increase in opportunity and started in 40 more games compared to his freshman season. The Hopkins, Minnesota native is slowly getting recognized as one of the Gopher’s best offensive weapons.

“There weren’t any specific changes that I made over the off-season except spend more time in the weight room and gain strength,” Perry said. “Overall, I think the main contributor to my success was just getting more college reps and gaining confidence as I get older.”

Talking with head coach John Anderson about Perry’s growth during his sophomore year went beyond the statistics. 

“I don’t try to make a decision on someone as a hitter until they get 200 at-bats at the Division I level and I think he’s approaching that now,” said Anderson. “Perry’s batting average does not reflect the number of quality at-bats he had. Jake started to relax as the season went along and started to believe in himself as a player.”

Even though the batting average was not where Perry wanted it to be, his production on offense was influential by knocking in runs or advancing runners. Coach Anderson believes he will take what he learned this year and improve for next season.

These are just a few of the impressive performers for Minnesota in 2023. Additionally, the Gophers received production from two freshmen, Kris Hokenson and Weber Neels, who started in plenty of games for the team.

After wrapping up his 42nd season as head coach at Minnesota, Anderson talked about the importance of Hokenson and Neels to the team in their freshman seasons.

“Both Weber and Kris did a good job of learning, growing and modifying their plan and approach. Learning how to handle good Division I pitching,” Anderson said. “Those two are definitely going to be players in the center of our lineup as they progress through their careers at Minnesota.”

The two underclassmen helped build a foundation for incoming freshmen to have essential roles on the team.

Anderson has since recruited another solid class he hopes will come in and make an impact on the team.

“I think there are a few guys that can help us on the mound,” Anderson said. “Getting two good classes together and keeping them together for three or four years is how you build a team that can have a chance to win a championship.”

The incoming class will provide Minnesota with sufficient depth across the roster to create beneficial competition. Anderson believes in this dynamic and said it will positively impact the squad as early as next season.

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