As the Gophers baseball season winds down, the magnitude of each Big Ten series revs up.
In that context, winning two of three games in a road series is a very good weekend. But the Gophers’ loss to last-place Penn State (2-15 Big Ten) on Sunday kept them from extending their lead in the conference standings.
Minnesota (11-4 Big Ten) beat Penn State on Friday and Saturday before losing in extra innings Sunday to wrap up its final road series in conference play.
Minnesota is a game ahead of Indiana (12-5) and Nebraska (12-5) in the loss column for first place in the conference.
Gophers players and coaches shrugged off Sunday’s loss and seemed optimistic about their performance against the Nittany Lions.
“Anytime you win a series, it’s a positive,” head coach John Anderson said.
The Gophers looked like they would sweep Penn State on Sunday in the sixth inning when sophomore Mark Tatera broke a 1-1 tie with an RBI triple.
Junior catcher Matt Halloran’s RBI double extended Minnesota’s lead to 3-1.
But the Nittany Lions responded in the bottom half of the inning. They took advantage of a misplayed bunt by senior third baseman Ryan Abrahamson and scored two runs as a result.
“It came down to not making a couple plays,” Abrahamson said.
Minnesota loaded the bases in the top of the 10th inning as well, but it couldn’t capitalize.
“We couldn’t get a big hit today,” Anderson said.
Penn State scored in the bottom of the 10th on a fielder’s choice.
The Gophers dominated the first two games of the series. They cruised to an 11-2 win Friday behind the offense and another strong outing by junior ace Tom Windle.
Windle (6-2) scattered seven hits throughout seven innings and allowed two runs, both unearned. He got all the run support he needed in the Gophers’ six-run fourth inning.
Senior right fielder Kurt Schlangen was 2-for-4 with three RBIs on Friday. Halloran had an RBI-double. Freshman second baseman Connor Schaefbauer, batting leadoff for a second straight series, went 2-for-3, walked twice and scored a pair of runs.
Anderson said having Schaefbauer at the top of the lineup “adds a little more balance.”
Former leadoff man Andy Henkeyemer moved to the third spot in the lineup, and Anderson said the Gophers have “found a lineup we liked.”
A similar lineup pushed home 12 more hits Saturday in a 7-3 Gophers victory. Abrahamson was 3-for-5 with an RBI. Sophomore shortstop Michael Handel went 2-for-5 with a pair of RBIs.
“All the guys in the lineup are in a spot where we can be successful,” Abrahamson said.
Junior righty Alec Crawford allowed two runs in seven innings Saturday.