The Gopher Baseball team will head southwest to face the Big Ten Conference’s defending regular season champion, Nebraska, to open league play this weekend in a three-game series in Lincoln.
Minnesota (14-8) enters the weekend off a bit of a respite coming off a 3-2 week in Texas against George Washington, UT Arlington, and TCU.
Minnesota won its three-game series against No. 9 TCU last weekend. The Gophers out-scored the Horned Frogs 18-8 on the weekend, including 12-1 over the final 20 innings spanning the extra-inning game two win for TCU and an 8-0 shutout for the Gophers in the series finale. The Maroon & Gold batted .310 against the vaunted Frogs pitching staff, slugging five doubles and a pair of home runs in the series. For the Gophers, it was the first three-game series victory over a ranked opponent since a 2-games-to-1 win over then-No. 23 Missouri State back on March 25-26, 2016.
Minnesota has a top-20 offense, ranking 17th in the nation with a .307 batting average and ninth in hits with 238 already this season … the Gophers have been productive even when making outs this year, as the team’s 17 sacrifice flies are the most in the nation this season … Terrin Vavra ranks eighth in the NCAA with 36 hits this season. His .414 batting average ranks third in the Big Ten and 38th in the nation … Max Meyer’s five saves currently rank 20th nationally and first in the conference.
Against the Competition
Minnesota and Nebraska have been nearly equal in the teams’ rivalry, with the Cornhuskers holding a slight edge in the series, 27-25-1. With the programs only meeting in six games the past two seasons, the current Gophers team has little exposure against Nebraska. In six games against the Huskers, Toby Hanson has batted .318 (7-for-22), hitting two home runs, driving in six runs, and scoring three. Micah Coffey has scored a pair of runs and driving in one, but has hit just .136 (3-for-22) against Nebraska in six games. Reggie Meyer is 1-0 against the Cornhuskers, tossing 3.2 relief innings in last year’s series and striking out two.
Redshirt freshman Drew Hmielewski (Marshall, MN), who earlier this season made his debut at the plate, has now stepped on the mound for the first time in his career. Hmielewski retired both batters he faced in a relief appearance at UT Arlington on March 14.
After failing to reach base in the season opener, Terrin Vavra has done so in 21 consecutive games. The second-longest streak on the team is Luke Pettersen’s 10-game streak … Ben Mezzenga has a hit in seven consecutive games, the highest current streak on the team. Pettersen also has the second-longest hitting streak, currently at six games.
Can’t Hold Them Down
Minnesota’s pitching staff now has two shutouts this season after defeating No. 9 TCU by an 8-0 score last Sunday afternoon. The Gophers have not been shut out themselves since April 16, 2017, a span of 48 games.
Returning All-Big Ten
Minnesota returns four of its six honorees from the All-Big Ten Teams following the 2017 season, all of whom figure into the team’s every day line-up. Junior Cole McDevitt landed on the league’s First Team after batting .314 in league play with four doubles, 11 RBIs, and 14 runs scored. Senior Micah Coffey returns after earning a Second Team selection last year. He batted .370 in league play, lifting a team-best eight doubles and adding 22 RBIs. Senior Toby Hanson returns after driving in a team-high 24 runs against conference competition to land on the Third Team. Sophomore Jordan Kozicky was an All-Freshman Team selection, batting .351 as a utility player.
Ins & Outs
Minnesota’s Friday night victory over then-No. 9 TCU was the team’s first defeat of a top-ten team since a 2-1 win over then-No. 8 Indiana in 10 innings back on May 15, 2015 … Brett Schulze picked up the victory against the Horned Frogs last Friday, matching his season total from 2017 with four on the year … Terrin Vavra’s four-hit game against TCU was the first for the Gophers since Cole McDevitt’s four-hit effort vs. Chicago State back on Feb. 24 … Minnesota claimed a series against a ranked foe for the first time in the last two seasons, dating back to a doubleheader sweep (8-1, 5-3) over No. 25 Michigan back on April 8, 2016.
Scouting the Cornhuskers
Nebraska (11-9) is hosting a weekday two-game set with Oral Roberts this week, dropping game one 11-4 on Tuesday night … the defending Big Ten regular season champion Cornhuskers finished 35-22-1 in 2017 while running off a 16-7-1 mark in conference play … head coach Darin Erstad returns for his seventh season at the helm of the Huskers in 2018 … Erstad has turned the ball over to right-hander Luis Alvarado on Friday nights this season. Alvarado has posted a 2.54 ERA in five starts, striking out 31 in 28.1 innings … righty Matt Warren is 3-0 in five starts, posting a 5.84 ERA in 24.2 innings … senior outfielder Zac Repinski leads Nebraska offensively, hitting .367/.426/.483 for the year … designated hitter Scott Schreiber returns after earning All-Big Ten honors a season ago, hitting .342/.424/.557 and slugging four home runs this year … Nebraska is 8-2 in its last ten meetings against Minnesota.
MNN Sports Director Mike Grimm spoke with Gopher infielder Micah Coffey about the season so far:
(info and photo courtesy of Gophers Sports)