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.
Big Ten baseball is getting better and better, Gophers coach John Anderson keeps saying. On Thursday night, Indiana helped prove his point.
The Hoosiers are the conference’s showcase team this year, and they looked the part in defeating Minnesota 4-2 in a Big Ten Tournament winner’s bracket game at Target Field.
Indiana (41-13) jumped on Gophers starter DJ Snelten for three first-inning runs and knew that lead was in good hands with Aaron Slegers, the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year.
Slegers (9-1) held Minnesota to one run on five hits over seven innings. He had seven strikeouts, no walks and threw 64 of his 94 pitches for strikes.
The Gophers tried coming back against Indiana’s bullpen in the eighth, as Troy Larson delivered his third hit and scored. Minnesota put two runners on in the ninth, but Hoosiers closer Ryan Halstead struck out Larson to end the game.
Top-seeded Indiana will face Ohio State on Friday night, with the winner advancing to Saturday’s championship game. The fourth-seeded Gophers fell to the loser’s bracket, where they’ll meet Michigan on Friday at noon, with the winner advancing to face Nebraska one hour later.
Indiana entered the tournament ranked 14th in the latest RPI rankings, and other Big Ten teams weren’t far behind, including Illinois (30th), Michigan State (35th), Nebraska (42nd) and Ohio State (62nd).
It’s been enough to make Big Ten coaches hopeful this could be the year they finally land more than three teams in the 64-team NCAA Tournament.
The Gophers (31-21) know they need to win this double-elimination tournament to get into the NCAA tourney with the Big Ten’s automatic bid.
The top-seeded Hoosiers not only led the Big Ten in almost every offensive category this season, they also led the conference with a 2.54 ERA.
Minnesota had one of the lowest-scoring offenses in the Big Ten, but its pitchers ranked second behind Indiana with a 2.86 ERA.
The Gophers will face the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year on Thursday night, when they take on Indiana at Target Field in a Big Ten Tournament winner's bracket game. The scheduled start time is 7:39 p.m.
Hoosiers righthander Aaron Slegers is 8-1 with a 1.98 ERA. The Gophers will counter with lefthander DJ Snelten, a first-team All-Big Ten selection who is 5-1 with a 1.88 ERA.
Interesting tidbit: These teams have not played since 2011. The past two years, the Gophers haven’t had Indiana or Purdue on their schedule. The Gophers lead the all-time series 103-40, but this is a very good Hoosiers team. Indiana is a lock to make the NCAA Tournament and should be a first-round host, at No. 14 in the latest RPI rankings.
Slegers is tough on the mound, and sophomore catcher Kyle Schwarber is projected to be one of the top picks in the 2014 MLB draft. He's batting .384 AVG/.471 OBP/.676 SLG.
Key stat: Schwarber has hit 14 home runs this season. As a team, the Gophers have nine home runs.
Illinois 3, Michigan 2: The Fighting Illini eliminated Michigan in this afternoon’s first game. Michigan loaded the bases with no outs in the first inning, but Illinois RHP John Kravetz escaped the jam unscathed. Illinois built a 3-1 lead by the fifth inning and held on, as reliever Drasen Johnson came on to escape another jam in the eighth. Thomas Lindauer had two hits and scored two runs for the Illini.
Ohio State 3, Nebraska 2: The Cornhuskers tied it in the top of the ninth on an RBI single by Bryan Peters, but Troy Kuhn drew a bases-loaded walk to win it the next half-inning. Nebraska fell to the loser's bracket, and Ohio State is one win from advancing to the championship game.
1. Connor Schaefbauer, 2B
2. Kurt Schlangen, RF
3. Andy Henkemeyer, LF
4. Matt Halloran, C
5. Mark Tatera, DH
6. Ryan Abrahamson, 3B
7. Dan Olinger, 1B
8. Michael Handel, SS
9. Troy Larson, CF
Starting pitcher: LH DJ Snelten (5-1, 1.88 ERA)
1. Chris Sujka, LF
2. Kyle Schwarber, C
3. Sam Travis, 1B
4. Scott Donley, DH
5. Michael Basil, SS
6. Dustin DeMuth, 3B
7. Casey Smith, RF
8. Chad Clark, 2B
9. Justin Cureton, CF
Starting pitcher: RH Aaron Slegers (8-1, 1.98 ERA)
Target Field. First pitch: 7:39 p.m. TV: Big Ten Network
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.
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