Joe Christensen covered Major League Baseball for 15 years, including three seasons at the Baltimore Sun and eight at the Star Tribune, before switching to the college football beat. He’s a Faribault, Minn., native who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1996. He covered Jim Wacker’s Gophers for the Minnesota Daily and also wrote about USC, UCLA and the Rose Bowl for the Riverside Press-Enterprise before getting this chance to cover football again.
Email Joe to talk about the Gophers.
Andy Henkemeyer lined a bases-loaded, RBI single to right field in the ninth inning, giving the Gophers a 3-2 victory over Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament opener at Target Field.
Minnesota took advantage as Illinois left 13 runners on base over the first seven innings.
The Gophers trailed 2-1 in the bottom of the fifth, when Henkemyer delivered a two-out, run-scoring single to tie the score. The hit went to center field, and Troy Larson scored from second on the play, but replays showed that catcher Jason Goldstein appeared to tag Larson before he touched the plate.
Ben Meyer gave the Gophers four innings of scoreless relief after Tom Windle, the team’s ace, labored through five innings.
Windle, a first-team All-Big Ten selection, threw 108 pitches and issued a season-high six walks but limited the damage to two runs.
Illinois starter Kevin Duchene, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, held the Gophers to two runs on seven hits over 6 1/3 innings.
The fourth-seeded Gophers will play either top-seeded Indiana or second-seeeded Ohio State on Thursday. Gophers coach John Anderson said DJ Snelten, another first-team All-Big Ten selection, will make the start for Minnesota.
The Big Ten baseball tournament starts today at Target Field, with the Gophers taking on Illinois at 12:05 p.m., on Big Ten Network.
The first pitching matchup is excellent, as Illinois sends the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Kevin Duchene, to the mound, opposite Gophers ace Tom Windle. Here’s a profile on Windle from today’s paper.
On Tuesday, the All-Big Ten teams were announced, with Illinois’ senior Justin Parr taking home conference player of the year honors after batting .415 with a .472 OBP and .610 SLG. Here are the all-conference selections from this game:
FIRST TEAM: 1B – David Kerian, ILL; SS – Thomas Lindauer, ILL; OF – Justin Parr, ILL; SP – DJ Snelten, MINN; SP – Tom Windle, MINN.
SECOND TEAM: C – Kurt Schlangen, MINN; OF – Jordan Parr, ILL; SP – Kevin Duchene, ILL.
THIRD TEAM: 2B – Connor Schaefbauer, MINN; OF – Andy Henkemeyer, MINN.
FRESHMAN TEAM: C – Jason Goldstein, ILL; SP – Kevin Duchene, ILL.
And here are today’s starting lineups:
ILLINOIS (14-10 Big Ten)
1. Thomas Lindauer, SS
2. Michael Hurwitz, DH
3. Justin Parr, CF
4. Jordan Parr, LF
5. Brandon Hohl, 3B
6. David Kerian, 1B
7. Reid Roper, 2B
8. Davis Hendrickson, RF
9. J Goldstein, C
Starting pitcher: LH K Duchene (8-1, 2.67 ERA)
GOPHERS (13-8 Big Ten)
1. Connor Schaefbauer, 2B
2. Kurt Schlangen, RF
3. Andy Henkemeyer, LF
4. Ryan Abrahamson, 3B
5. Dan Olinger, 1B
6. Alex LaShomb, DH
7. Michael Handel, SS
8. Matt Halloran, C
9. Troy Larson, CF
Starting pitcher: LH Tom Windle (6-4, 2.05 ERA)
Target Field. First pitch: 12:05 p.m. TV: BTN
The Big Ten has yet to land more than three teams in the NCAA baseball tournament since the field expanded to 64 in 1999. As recently as 2011 and 2012, the conference sent just one team into the NCAA field.
This year, that could change, especially if an underdog such as Minnesota wins this week's Big Ten Tournament at Target Field.
Here's a look at the latest Pseudo-RPI rankings on Boydsworld.com: Indiana (13), Illinois (30), Michigan State (39), Nebraska (44), Ohio State (60), Gophers (126), Michigan (151).
In his latest College Stock Report, Baseball America's Aaron Fitt projects the Big Ten to get four bids, and he makes a strong case for Michigan State to make it, even though the Spartans didn't qualify for the six-team Big Ten tourney.
The Big Ten coaches at Tuesday's press conference all agreed that the conference has improved.
"I’ve been fortunate enough to be in the conference for 23 years, and by far and away, this is the best this conference has ever been," Illinois coach Dan Hartleb said.
Gophers coach John Anderson credits the commitment schools have made toward facilities, recruiting budgets and coaching hires, along with the Big Ten Network, which will televise this week's entire tournament, live.
First-year Michigan coach Erik Bakich said: "With the elite institutions that we’re a part of, it would be a travesty to think that the Big Ten in baseball would only be a one- or two-bid league. And from here on out, I know we would love to see this be a four- or five-plus-bid league. And it can do that."
The tournament starts Wednesday at noon, when Minnesota faces Illinois. Look for my story on Gophers ace Tom Windle in tonight's first editions, and I'll have coverage from Target Field throughout the week.
Former Gophers quarterback Max Shortell announced Thursday night on Twitter that he is transferring to Jacksonville State in Alabama.
The 6-6 junior from suburban Kansas City originally signed with Minnesota after being recruited by Michigan. In two years with the Gophers, Shortell played 13 games, completing 91 of 170 passes (53.5 percent) with eight touchdowns.
But the strong-armed Shortell is more of a pro-style quarterback who didn't fit Minnesota's offense, which has relied on its quarterbacks to run under Coach Jerry Kill. The Gophers liked what they saw this spring from young quarterbacks Philip Nelson and Mitch Leidner.
Shortell's decision came five months after he decided to leave the Gophers program. Jacksonville State is an FCS school in the Ohio Valley Conference that went 7-4 last season.
Shortell's tweet (@goldenarmginger) says: "I will be playing ball next at Jacksonville State University. #GoGamecocks!"
The first four-team College Football Playoff is coming after the 2014 season, and the Big Ten doesn't want to miss it.
By adding TCU to their 2014 and 2015 schedules, the Gophers were complying with the Big Ten's desire to strengthen non-conference schedules. Every team in the league -- including Rutgers and Maryland, who join in 2014 -- has at least one BCS opponent on its non-conference schedule for 2014.
That might help the Big Ten from getting overlooked when selection day comes for that first four-team tourney.
David Benedict, the Gophers executive associate athletics director, noted what could have happened last season, when Ohio State went 12-0. With a season like that, assuming they were bowl eligible, Big Ten teams should expect to land one of those coveted four College Football Playoff spots.
But because of the Big Ten's weak showing in non-conference play, there would have been no guarantees for the Buckeyes last season. After the conference championship games, Alabama was 13-1, Notre Dame was 12-1, Oregon was 12-1 and there were four two-loss teams from the SEC (Georgia, Texas A&M, South Carolina and Florida).
"I think the Big Ten doesn’t want to be in a position like last year, where we were the fourth-ranked conference in the country at the end of the season," Benedict said. "And we don’t want to be in position where our best team is on the outside looking in, come the end of the year.
"And the reality is, if we don’t make sure the league is scheduling the way we’ve now set it up, there’s a chance that we could be on the outside looking in. And we cannot as a league let that happen."
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