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Gophers and Buckeyes to Play for Big 10 Baseball Title

05/21/2004, 12:00am CDT
By Bryan Frankenberg

Other Gopher Sports

Another Big Ten baseball season is about to come to a conclusion, and that can only mean one thing: Minnesota and Ohio State will face off for the Big Ten Title and the right to host the Conference Tournament. 2004 marks the third straight season that the Gophers and Buckeyes have entered the final weekend as the top two teams fighting for the league title. The last five regular season champions have come from these two schools, with the Buckeyes winning in '99 and '01 and the Gophers in '00, '02, and '03.

Michigan State is sitting in third place and would need to sweep Northwestern this weekend and have Minnesota and Ohio St. split to tie the Gophers. (Note: Minnesota and Michigan St. did not play each other this season).

Minnesota enters this weekend's series with a 33-19 record and is ranked 38th in the ESPN coaches' poll. According to the Boyd's World Pseudo RPI rankings, the Gophers are currently #62, while Ohio St. comes in at #70. That means it's a longshot that the Big Ten will get two teams into the NCAA Tournament. Both teams had disappointing outcomes earlier this week, when Ohio St. lost at home 7-2 to Cleveland St. and the Gophers were defeated 14-4 by Northern Iowa.

Minnesota (33-19, 19-9)
The Gophers are led by their lone senior in the lineup, All-American Sam Steidl. With two hits on Tuesday, Steidl became the second Gopher to record 300 hits for his career. Robb Quinlan of the Anaheim Angels has the school record with 345. Sam leads the team in batting average (.375), hits, runs scored, doubles, and stolen bases

Sophomore shortstop Matt Fornasiere isn't far behind with a .374 average, 6 home runs, 40 RBI's, and is an important reason why the Gophers lead the Big Ten in defense with a .979 fielding percentage.

One of the surprises from last year's team was the play of C-1B Andy Hunter. The freshman from St. Paul hit .344 with 4 HR's and 44 RBI's. This season, Hunter has picked up right where he left off and is leading the team with 8 home runs and a Big Ten leading 56 RBI's. Hunter came into the program as a catcher, but this season has rotated between DH and first base. Replacing three-year starter David Roach at first was not an easy task, but Andy has committed only 3 errors and is improving with every game.

Taking over the catching duties full-time has been junior Jake Elder. Jake is second in Big Ten games in home runs with 6 and has been an outstanding defensive presence behind the plate.

The biggest surprise has come with the play of freshman Mike Mee. His father, Tom Mee, played on the Gophers' last College World Series team in 1977. Mike has played some at first base but mainly is used as a DH. Mee has cooled off some after a hot start but is still batting .337 and is in the top 3 for most offensive statistics.

The other starters will be junior David Hrncirik at third, sophomore Luke McLean at second, sophomore switch hitter Tony Leseman in left field, and true freshman Sean Kommerstad in right.

Ohio State(31-21, 18-10)
The Buckeyes are led by junior left fielder Steve Caravati, winner of Big Ten Player of the Week honors three times in the past month and the favorite for Big Ten Player of the Year. Caravati recently had a streak of reaching base on 10 consecutive at bats. He is second in the conference with a .394 average and leads the Buckeyes in most offensive categories, including 9 home runs and 45 RBI's.

One reason Caravati has such a high RBI total is due to the men batting in front of him, mainly second baseman Drew Anderson. Anderson is batting .327, is second on the team in hits, first in doubles and triples, and trails only Sam Steidl in the Big 10 in runs scored. Anderson was a preseason All-American after hitting 12 home runs in '03 but so far hasn't shown the same type of power with only 4 this year. He is a very good defensive player and has outstanding speed, going a perfect 17 for 17 on stolen bases.

After hitting a record 70 home runs last year, big things were expected from Ohio St., but so far the power numbers have been down throughout the lineup. Shortstop Brett Garrad is a prime example, as his home run total went from 9 to just 3 this year. The 3-year starter is hitting .311 and has 15 doubles and a .387 OBP.

Third baseman Jeddiah Stephens is second on the team with 7 HR's after hitting 6 as a freshman and looks to be a power hitter of the future.

Another strong prospect for the future is right fielder Jacob Howell, a rookie of the year candidate with a .315 average. Howell has good speed, stealing 10 bases in 13 attempts, is third on the team in hits and runs scored, and is tied for the lead with 4 triples.

Coming on strong in the past month has been tiny freshman DH Adam Schneider. Standing only 5'7", Schneider has shown the potential to be a deep threat and has been batting cleanup the past seven games.

Rounding out the lineup will be C Derek Kinnear, IB Paul Farinacci, and CF Mike Rabin

Minnesota Pitching
The Gophers are led by All-American candidate and potential 1st round draft pick Glen Perkins. Perkins is 17-4 in his two years as the Gophers' ace and is undefeated at 15-0 in Big Ten play. Perkins has three strong pitches, including a 90 MPH fastball, a strong curve, and a very good changeup, not to mention being a lefty with good control. For his career, he has walked just 44 batters in 189 innings while striking out 199. Perkins will pitch on Friday.

After a rough 2003 in which he went 1-5, senior Craig Molldrem has bounced back in a big way. Craig is 6-1 and leading the Big Ten with a 2.68 ERA

Junior Josh Krogman and senior Jay Gagner will pitch the final two games. Krogman was 9-4 in his first two years before injuring his elbow and having Tommy John surgery that forced him to redshirt in 2003. He is 2-1 this year and is just starting to regain his old form.

Gagner has had an up and down career as a starter and was put in the bullpen to begin the year, but that changed when Matt Loberg fell on hard times and Gagner was given another chance. He has taken full advantage of the opportunity by going 3-0.

In the bullpen, sophomore Brian Bull is once again the most valuable reliever. As a freshman, Bull was 6-2 with 2 saves and served as the primary setup man for closer Jeff Moen. This season, Bull is 3-3 and has done a little of everything from starting 2 games, to middle relief, setup, and even closer.

Closer Jeff Moen has seen his save total fall from 9 to 1 and has only pitched 16 innings, but he is 3-1 and will be a key component if the Gophers are to advance in the postseason.

The freshman class of John Gaub, Cole DeVries, and Josh Oslin has given the Gophers some very good innings this year and a lot of promise for the future. Gaub and Oslin were draft picks of the Twins, and both have shown flashes of being major contributors in the future.

Ohio State Pitching
This series will feature the top two pitchers in the Big Ten with Glen Perkins and senior Josh Newman from Ohio St. Newman is a four-year starter who has never had less than 7 wins in a season and is currently # 3 on OSU's all-time win list. This season he is 7-5 with a 3.67 ERA and a future high major league draft pick.

The second game will feature the return of All-American Scott Lewis. Lewis was one of the best pitchers in the country the past two seasons and a can't-miss major league prospect until he suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow in a game vs. Minnesota on May 16, 2003. The injury required Tommy John surgery and kept Lewis off the mound for the past 11 months. He was 17-3 with a 2.33 ERA and 241 strikeouts in 193 innings before the injury and was a legitimate candidate for College Baseball Player of the Year. Since his return on April 11, Lewis has started four games, pitching 17 innings with 23 strikeouts and only 3 walks. He recorded his first win last weekend against Northwestern.

The Game 3 starter will most likely be junior Trent Luyster. Luyster has a career 7-5 record and has split his time between the starting rotation and the bullpen. He is 4-4 this year with 4 saves.

The final starter will be junior Mike Madsen, the only right-handed starter for the Buckeyes. He is 8-3 on the season.

Out of the bullpen, Brett Hatcher is 3-0 and Trey Fausnaugh has 7 saves and 28 appearances.

Minnesota leads the all-time series 65-63-2. The Gophers expect crowds of 2,000-3,000 and will set up extra bleachers. Rain is expected all weekend. Friday's game is scheduled to air on FSN North at 6:30pm. Remaining games can be heard on 950AM.

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Tag(s): Other Gopher Sports