After losing five of their last six Big Ten games and struggling to find offensive consistency, the Gophers baseball team may have finally found the bats.
Minnesota (14-15, 6-6 Big Ten) swept Indiana on the road with three solid pitching performances and an offensive breakout Saturday in its most complete series to date.
“We pitched outstanding, played defense once again and started to see some life in our offense this weekend,” head coach John Anderson said.
Friday’s game was postponed due to rain — the eighth such game this year pushed back or canceled because of the weather. The two teams played a doubleheader Saturday, in which the Gophers outscored the Hoosiers by a combined 15-3.
TJ Oakes went five innings and gave up two runs in the early game, but a 92-minute rain delay after the fifth inning forced the starter from the contest. The game was tied at 2-2 when play resumed, and freshman reliever Tom Windle took over for Oakes.
The Gophers took a 3-2 lead in the eighth inning on an AJ Petterson home run — he scored all three Minnesota runs — and Windle’s four perfect innings sealed the victory.
Windle adjusted the grip on his slider, Anderson said, with the help of pitching coach Todd Oakes last week in practice, and the pitch was a large part of his success Saturday.
Minnesota beat the Hoosiers 12-1 in the second Saturday game. The outburst completed the Gophers’ first doubleheader road sweep since April 28, 2007 .
“We just really needed to get the offense going, the pitching and defense have been there all year,” Petterson said. “It seems to be the story every year. We tend to get the offense going right about now, and it’s good timing I think. It was a good weekend for us to get going.”
Nine different runners scored, with eight players recording an RBI and six players collecting a multi-hit game. The Gophers stepped on the accelerator with a seven-run second inning before coasting to the easy victory.
Andy Henkemeyer opened the scoring for Minnesota when he tied the game at 1-1 with an RBI single in the second inning. Troy Larson added a two-RBI single. Justin Gominsky , Nick O’Shea , and Dan Olinger each chipped in an RBI base hit before the Gophers added an unearned run on a wild pitch to cap the scoring.
Staked to an early six-run lead, starter Phil Isaksson (2-4) went to work in the second inning and attacked hitters. Isaksson gave up a first-inning run but settled down after that, putting up six consecutive scoreless innings to earn the victory.
“It was really nice. It took a little pressure off [me],” Isaksson said of his offensive support. “I think the offense just had a little momentum from the first game on AJ’s home run.
“They were pretty pumped up, and it helped me out, too.”
In seven innings, Isaksson allowed seven scattered hits, an earned run, a walk and had seven strikeouts.
“He was outstanding,” Anderson said.
O’Shea and David Bettenburg added home runs in Game 2, adding power to the list of Minnesota’s offensive weaponry options. The team had just four dingers on the season entering the series, but had three Saturday.
Petterson, who was 5-for-10 Saturday, continued his hot weekend Sunday, going 2-for-5 with an RBI triple in Minnesota’s 5-2 win. He will likely earn Big Ten Player of the Week considerations for his offensive explosion, and he’s now hit safely in 28 of 29 games this season.
Austin Lubinsky (3-3) earned the win Sunday, pitching six-plus innings before relievers Billy Soule and Scott Matyas , who earned the save, closed out the game to complete the sweep.
“If you have some success and you have some good at-bats, it can be contagious, and you can build confidence that way. We have to take the confidence out of this series and keep it going,” Anderson said.
He added: “I thought they were in a very good place this weekend — very relaxed, very confident and workman-like.”
The series also served as a test drive for a lineup switch, in which Larson, the center fielder, was inserted into the two spot in the batting order. With the move, Gominsky slid over to right field and into the third slot in the order.
Anderson said he will stick with the new lineup, and Larson will abandon his switch-hitting approach and be a strictly right-handed batter for the remainder of the season. He said Larson’s speed near the top of the order helped spark the offense this weekend.
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