One of the toughest non-conference schedules in college baseball prepared Minnesota for Big Ten play as the Gophers came out of University Park, Pennsylvania with three wins in the first Big Ten series of the season.
"That's what good competition does. It gives you a sense of reality of where you are, and you've got to decide if you want to go to work and fix some of the things," said Minnesota head coach John Anderson. "Get in the [Big Ten] and you're prepared because you've seen it all."
Minnesota (8-13) completed its first sweep of the season and defeated Penn State (13-6) in three games over the weekend. The Gophers took the first game on Saturday 5-1 before completing the sweep with a double-header on Sunday (7-5, 8-6).
In the series finale, the Gophers scored five runs in the fourth inning, highlighted by career-first home runs from outfielder Drew Hmielewski and infielder Jack Wassel. After four innings, the Gophers held a 7-1 lead. Penn State scrapped its way back, and in the bottom of the ninth inning Penn State's Mac Hippenhammer hit a two-run double to cut the Gophers' lead to 8-6. Then, Gophers closer Brett Schulze entered the game for the final out, and the Gophers survived for the win. Schulze recorded saves on both games of the double header on Sunday. Gophers infielder Jordan Kozicky led in hitting in the finale, going 3-5 with 4 RBIs.
"Wasn't trying to crank the ball at all really, just trying to put the ball in play. Focus on getting good barrels, and the results came," Kozicky said. "We knew they were a better team from the last couple years, especially last year, but we weren't expecting them to have that good of pitching, and the hitters definitely gave us a run for our money."
In the second game of the series, Patrick Fredrickson struggled with the start on the mound. He walked three batters and allowed one hit, and Penn State got up to a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning. Fredrickson got pulled after his third walk for senior pitcher Jeff Fasching, who ended the inning.
Minnesota came back with a two-RBI single from Zack Raabe in the next inning, and then RBIs from infielder Cole McDevitt with a double and Kozicky with a sacrifice fly to make it 4-3 in favor of Minnesota. Penn State scored two runs in the fifth inning, and Minnesota tied it in the seventh inning.
Gophers' outfielder Easton Bertrand broke the 5-5 tie with his third home run of the year, and Kozicky scored on a fielding error to add to the lead. The Nittany Lions could not respond in the bottom of the inning, and Minnesota won 7-5. Bertrand went 3-5 hitting in the game, and senior pitcher Jake Stevenson recorded the win.
"It's just a constant game of adjustments," said Bertrand, who had three at-bats last season. "I'm just really figuring my stuff out week to week and seeing what I can do to provide for the team."
In the first game, Minnesota starting pitcher Max Meyer gave up one run in the second inning, and that was all Penn State could score. The Gophers came back thanks to Nittany Lions' fielding errors in the fourth inning, and came out of it with a 4-1 lead. Bertrand capped scoring with an RBI double in the top of the seventh inning that scored McDevitt to make it a final score of 5-1. Meyer pitched six innings and allowed five hits, while senior pitcher Nick Lackney recorded the save in the final three innings. Minnesota's batters struck out 17 times in the first game.
Minnesota has won 15 straight games over Penn State.
After 21 games and six weekends playing in different states, the Gophers will have their home opener against Nebraska (11-7) on Friday at 4 p.m. It will be a three-game series at Siebert Field Friday through Sunday.
"We're all pumped," Kozicky said. "We're just happy to get home after a long spring break and a long 21-game road trip. So we're pumped to finally be in our home territory in front of home fans, and we'll take advantage of that."