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Gophers baseball builds momentum heading into Big Ten play

The Gophers won the final two games against San Francisco to take the series ahead of their first conference series.
Image by Gopher Athletics (courtesy)
Connor Wietgrefe finished his start Sunday with a career-high 13 strikeouts.

After losing a series to Elon University, Gophers baseball recovered with a series win over San Francisco last weekend.

The Gophers are 10-10 heading into the Big Ten-laden portion of their schedule, a significant improvement from 2023 when they entered conference play with a 5-19 record.

Minnesota dropped the first two games against Elon by one run. They responded with a 9-7 win over the Phoenix on a go-ahead home run by junior second baseman Brady Counsell in the 10th inning.

Junior starting pitcher Tucker Novotny posted his best start of the season against Elon in the Game 1 loss. Novotny pitched 6 2/3 scoreless innings, allowed four hits and struck out two batters.

A weekend in San Francisco

The Gophers lost 6-4 in their first game of the San Francisco series. However, it was not for a lack of offense, as Minnesota out-hit the Dons 11 to five.

Redshirt sophomore catcher Sam Hunt has struggled at the plate this season, hitting a .194 batting average, but went 3 for 7 (.429) throughout the series. In addition, he tallied a home run –– his first of the season –– and three RBIs.

Minnesota’s offense was rolling again on Saturday, producing 18 hits in a 12-10 victory over the Dons. Senior outfielder Boston Merila had a career-high four hits in the win, one of which was a game-tying two-run double in the eighth inning.

Merila said he was seeing the ball well and finding pitches that he could handle.

“I wanted to take it one at-bat at a time and things were starting to click,” Merila said. “Just a good day at the park.”

Merila hit 7 for 13 (.538) with four RBIs and went the entire series without striking out. Counsell said Merila is one of the best contact hitters in the lineup and it was good to see him get into a rhythm.

The Gophers dominated the rubber match against San Francisco, winning 12-6. Minnesota added 15 more hits to its weekend total of 44 and scored eight or more runs for the eighth time in 2024.

On top of the offense, junior left-handed pitcher Connor Wietgrefe added a career-high 13 strikeouts. Wietgrefe earned his second win of the season, going six innings and allowing five runs on seven hits and walking just one on 118 pitches.

Wietgrefe said having an array of pitches aided him in recording a personal best strikeout total in a single game.

“First couple of starts I didn’t quite have all five working, so it made it easier on the hitter, but last few starts, I’ve had all five working,” Wietgrefe said.

Wietgrefe said having an offense that can score runs makes it easier on the pitcher, but the staff would like to keep opponents to fewer runs.

Counsell is the Gophers’ leadoff hitter and has hit his stride as of late, hitting 12 for 30 (.400) in the last two series.

Counsell said adjusting to the types of pitches he is receiving allows him to get hits no matter what the pitcher is throwing.

“It’s always just a game of adjustments,” Counsell said. “Last week, I hit fastballs away really well. This week, they came inside with fastballs and sliders away.”

The Gophers’ second baseman recorded his second three-hit game of the season against San Francisco. Counsell is hitting .287 on the season with five home runs, three of which came in the Elon series.

The Gophers take on the Iowa Hawkeyes on Friday in Iowa City, looking to repeat last season’s first Big Ten series against Ohio State, where they took two of three games in Columbus.

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