Feb. 15, 2012
BIG TEN/BIG EAST CHALLENGE
Date: Feb. 17-19 (No. 15/24 Louisville,No. 11/21 St. John’s, South Florida)
Location: Clearwater and St. Petersburg, Fla.
Audio: gophersports.com (Tom Witschen)
Blog/Live Stats: gophersports.com
All-time Series: MN vs Louisville, 0-2; St. John’s 1-2; South Florida, 2-1
PROBABLE PITCHING MATCH-UPS
Friday: LV-Justin Amlung (Jr., RHP) vs. MN-TJ Oakes (Jr., RHP)
Saturday: MN-Tom Windle (So. LHP) vs. SJ- Sean Hagan (Jr., LHP)
Sunday: MN-Austin Lubinsky (Sr., RHP) vs. USF-Andrew Barbosa (Sr., LHP)
BIG TEN/BIG EAST CHALLENGE STORYLINES
• 2012 is the fourth year of the Big Ten/Big East Challenge, dating back to 2009. Minnesota holds a 3-6 record during that span. The Gophers went 2-1 in 2009, 0-3 in 2010 and 1-2 last season.
• The 2012 marks the third-straight year the Gophers will play St. John’s and Louisville in the Big Ten/Big East Challenge and the first time against South Florida. Minnesota opened the 2011 season against St. John’s, Connecticut and Louisville. In 2010, the Gophers played a three-game series against Akron prior to the Big Ten/Big East Challenge.
• Minnesota went 1-2 in last year’s Challenge, falling to St. John’s and Louisville and defeated Connecticut. The Gophers dropped the opener (14-1), defeated the Huskies, 3-2 and fell in the last game against Louisville, 3-0.
• The Big Ten won the inaugural Challenge in 2009, 15-9, while the Big East was victorious in 2010, 17-13, and in 2011, 14-10.
• John Anderson enters his 31st year as the Golden Gopher head coach this weekend and 34th year overall at the University of Minnesota. Anderson is coaching his 1,765, 1,766 and 1,767 career games this weekend. He currently holds an all-time record of 1,063-699-3.
• Minnesota went 25-24 last year, playing 30 regular season games on the road. The Maroon and Gold finished in a tie for fourth in the Big Ten and third in the Big Ten Tournament, ending its season with a loss to Michigan State.
• The Golden Gopher baseball team enters its 124th year as a Minnesota varsity sport. Minnesota has 38 home games this season, 36 of which are played at the Metrodome. It is the first time since May 2010 the Gophers have played in the facility since the roof collapsed.
• The Gophers return 20 letterwinners, while losing 12 from last year’s squad. Minnesota returns five starting position players from 2011 in Kurt Schlangen (catcher), Matt Puhl (second), Kyle Geason (third), Andy Henkemeyer (left field) and Troy Larson (outfield/infield).
The Gophers will send junior TJ Oakes to the mound in the season opener Friday. A two-time third-team All-Big Ten selection, Oakes was the Gophers’ Friday starter in 2011 and looks to take the lead again this year. As a sophomore, the 6-5 right-handed pitched a team-high 85.2 innings and held a 3.26 earned run average in 14 starts. Oakes returns to the Gophers after being drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 27th round of amateur draft.
Tom Windle will pitch against St. John’s on Saturday. The Saturday tilt will be the third-career start for the 6-3 left-hander after starting in two games last year as a rookie. Named to the Big Ten All-Tournament Team, Windle pitched five innings in a 1-0 win over Purdue. In his first season with the Gophers, Windle held an ERA of 1.52 in 41.1 innings pitched, ranking 10th in school history for lowest season ERA. He appeared in 19 games, third-most among pitchers, had two saves and struck out 35 batters.
The Gophers will send out senior Austin Lubinsky Sunday against South Florida. As a 6-1 right-hander, Lubinsky appeared in 14 games as a junior and held a 5-6 record wtih a 4.36 ERA. Posting the pitching staff’s high of 53 strikeouts, he also went 2-3 in Big Ten games. During the conference tournament. Lubinsky pitched six innings in the Gophers’ win over Ohio State. Although drafted by the San Francisco Giants in the 36th round of the MLB draft, Lubinsky is back for his final Gopher season.
Arguably one of the deepest positions this year for the Gophers is on the mound. The Gophers combine veteran experience with a talented group of freshmen this year. Along with starters Oakes, Windle and Lubinsky, Minnesota has a total of 14 pitchers on their roster. Reliever Billy Soule saw the most action by a returner Gopher when he appeared in 22 games last season. Soule had a 3.55 ERA and saw action in two games during the Big Ten Tournament. Minnesota also returns Dustin Klabunde, Kevin Kray and Alex Tukey as right-handed pitchers as well as Kyle O’Shea and DJ Snelten for left-handers. The Gophers also added Iowa Central CC transfer Drew Ghelfi as well as freshmen Jordan Jess (LHP), Ty McDevitt (RHP), Ben Meyer (RHP) and Lance Thonvold (RHP).
THREE GOPHERS NAMED TO ‘BIG TEN PLAYERS TO WATCH LIST; GOPHERS TABBED TO FINISH THIRD IN PRESEASON VOTES
Senior Kyle Geason, junior TJ Oakes and sophomore Tom Windle were named to the Big Ten's Players to Watch List, announced Tuesday by the Big Ten Conference office. Along with highlighting athletes, the conference announced that Michigan State was selected by the coaches as the preseason favorite to win the conference title in 2012. Following the Spartans on the coaches' preseason top six list are No. 2 Purdue, No. 3 Minnesota, No. 4 Nebraska, No. 5 Ohio State and No. 6 Illinois. The conference's baseball coaches voted on the top six teams and also selected three players from their own teams to a Players to Watch List.
The Gophers will have some new faces around the clubhouse this season. Minnesota will have a new shortstop this year in red-shirt freshmen Michael Handel. In high school, Handel was an all-state and all-area selection as well a first-team all-conference his senior and junior seasons. Kyle Crocker also redshirted the 2011 season, while sophomore Mark Tatera transferred from Duke and Drew Ghelfi completed two seasons at Iowa Central CC. The Gophers will also have a group of talented true freshmen in Jake Bergren (OF), Jordan Jess (LHP), Ty McDevitt (RHP), Ben Meyer (RHP), Chris Schaaf (IF), Tony Skjefte (IF) and Lance Thonvold (RHP).
Minnesota has a mix of new faces and veteran leadership in the infield. Kyle Geason and Matt Puhl, who saw action in 49 and 48 games last season, were exceptional in the field. At the hot corner, Geason has started every game over the past two years. He held a fielding percenatage of .912 with 109 assists as a junior and .919 in the Gophers’ Big Ten title 2010 season. Puhl started and played in 48 of 49 games as a red-shirt sophomore and a fielding percentage of .957. The Gophers will look to replenish first-team All-Big Ten shortstop AJ Pettersen with Michael Handel, who redshirted the 2011 season. With Nick O’Shea graduating, the Gophers will place Dan Olinger at first base. As a redshirt freshman in 2011, Olinger batted .265 with 10 runs, 27 hits, three doubles, two triples and 18 RBI. He played 11 games at first last year, and 12 as the Gophers’ designated hitter.
DOME SWEET DOME
What a difference a year makes. Following the Big Ten/Big East Challenge, the Golden Gophers will be in the confines of the H.H.H. Metrodome for a 27-game homestand, the longest homestand in school history. Running Feb. 24-April 3, Minnesota begins with four games against UW-Milwaukee (Feb. 24-26) and a one-game matchup with New Mexico State (March 1). The 28th annual Dairy Queen Classic returns to the Metrodome as the Maroon and Gold host Nebraska, New Mexico State and West Virginia, March 2-4. Followed by a game against Hamline on March 7, the Gophers then host the Metrodome Tournament, March 9-10, as Kansas and Stony Brook come to town. Minnesota continues the homestand with contests against Kansas State (March 13-14), Cal-Poly (March 17-19), North Dakota State (March 20-21), The Citadel (March 23-25) and South Dakota State (March 28). The Gophers then open the Big Ten Conference season at home against Michigan, March 30-31 and April 1. In all, the Gophers will have 38 of 36 Metrodome home games. The May 1 against St. Thomas, while the May 5 game against Penn State is set for Target Field. Last year, Minnesota was unable to play a majority of its home games due to the roof collapse in the Metrodome.
Ranked as high as No. 15 and 24 in the preseason polls, Louisville posted a record of 32-29 in 2011 and 14-1 in the Big East. Predicted to finish second in the conference this season, the Cardinals return 19 letterwinners, including 2012 Preseason All-Big East honorees Justin Amlung (Jr., RHP) and Stewart Ijames (Sr., OF). Amlung was also named the Preseason Big East Pitcher of the Year after he posted a 10-2 overall record in 2011 and held a 2.31 ERA in 105.0 innings pitched. Also returning to the mound is Matt Koch and Jeff Thompson. Koch was predicted as the Big East’s Pitcher of the Year by Baseball America after he went 5-5 his sophomore season wtih a 3.48 ERA 67.1 innings pitched. Thompson appeared in 18 games and went had an ERA of 2.75 as a rookie last season.
SCOUTING ST. JOHN’S
St. John’s returns 18 letterwinners from last year’s NCAA at-large team. The Red Storm finished the 2011 season with a 36-22 overall record and an 18-8 conference mark, finishing second in the Big East. The Red Storm was chosen by the conference coaches to win the Big East this season and rank as high as No. 11, No. 21 and No. 27 in the polls. St John’s returns junior outfielder Jeremy Baltz, who was tabbed as the Big East Preseason Player of the Year and a Preseason All-American. Also landing a spot on the Preseason All-Big East were pitcher Kyle Hansen and shortstop Matt Wessinger. Minnesota will face junior left-handed pitcher Sean Hagan on Saturday. As a sophomore, Hagan went 7-2 and held a 4.95 ERA in 66.2 innings of work. In 2010, Hagan went 5-1 and had 53 strikeouts in 55.2 innings.
SCOUTING SOUTH FLORIDA
South Florida was predicted to finish fourth in the Big East Preseason poll. The Bulls return senior left-handed pitcher Andrew Barbosa, who went 8-2 on the season and had a Big East best 2.40 ERA in 2010. He underwent Tommy John surgery at the beginning of the 2011 season. Left-hander Matt Reed also returns to the roster this yar. The only USF starting pitcher to have a winning record, Reed went 5-4 with a 4.11 ERA in 2011.
Around the Bases with Matt Fiedler
Junior Matt Fiedler has been all over the diamond early in his Gophers career.
Around the Bases with Jeff Fasching
Jeff Fasching, a sophomore pitcher, tossed eight innings of relief for the Gophers last season.
Around the Bases with Luke Pettersen
After a successful first season with the Gophers, Luke Pettersen enters his sophomore season on campus.