Roman Augustoviz spends Minnesota's winters covering college hockey, specifically the Gophers, and other University of Minnesota sports. During the summer, he writes about the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx, with a dose of U sports sprinkled in. Follow him on Twitter @RomanStrib.
The last time the Gophers and Houston met on a ballfield, 33 runs were scored. The U beat the Cougars 18-15. Of course, that was March 23, 1987.
Today the two teams meet at 6:30 p.m. in Houston and the over/under for runs would be a lot less if someone was setting it.
Houston is a consensus top 10 team, ranked as high as No. 3 in the land by Baseball America. The Cougars were 48-18 last season, tying a school record for victories. And against nonconference foes, Houston was 27-5.
The Gophers are coming off a 27-24 season. They were 13-11 in the Big Ten, tying for fourth. But coach John Anderson, in his 34th season as the U of M skipper, is optimistic. As he should be, although his club might take some early lumps.
After three games in Houston, the Gophers play four games against Texas, ranked No. 10 by Baseball America.
Anderson has five regulars back, three in the infield, and two of his top three starting pitchers. Closer Dalton Sawyer is switching to starter, so that gives him three promising starters which is as many as a team needs most weekends.
Ben Meyer, a 6-6 senior righty, looks like the ace. He was 4-5 with a 2.39 ERA last season, best on the team. He started 15 games, held batters to a .228 average and struck out 67 in 98 innings.
Dalton Sawyer, a 6-5 junior lefty, comes out of the bullpen to start. He was 6-4 with a 2.62 ERA last season and six saves. He had 42 whiffs in 44.2 innings.
Neal Kunik, a 6-0 senior righty, was 2-2 with a 3.84 ERA. He held batters to a .231 average and didn't give up a single homer in 11 games, five starts, six relief appearances.
They should have a pretty good defense behind them, especially with Mike Handel back at shortstop, Tony Skjefte at third and Connor Schaefbauer at second.
In the outfield, Jordan Smith is back in left and Dan Motl in center.
Schaefbauer hit .287 last season and led the Gophers in runs with 30, hits with 56 and steals with 13 out of 15 attempts.
Skjefte led the team in RBI with 30.
Houston returns six players from its regular lineup, including two .300 hitters. But pitching was the Cougars strength and all its starters are back. The staff ERA was 2.35 last season, which ranked eighth nationally.
Senior Kaitlyn Richardson is playing a new position this season for the Gophers. She's at first base instead of third.
But her hitting ability hasn't changed. She was 9-for-16 last weekend to boost her career average to .400, a nice, gaudy stat.
Minnesota opened the season in a tournament in Las Vegas and went 5-0. This weekend the Gophers are in Florida for four more games, including two on Friday versus Steton University, a team they have never played before.
The Hatters are 3-1 and, so far, also are swinging the bats well. They are hitting .426 with seven homers and 31 RBI and have outscored four opponents 32-4. Their one loss was to Michigan State 3-2.
Sophomore righty Sara Groenewegen and company in the circle for the Gophers will try to quiet the Hatters a bit. She is 3-0 with 28 strikeouts in 16 innings -- that's almost two per inning.
The Gophers are No. 12 in one national poll, No. 13 in another. So they are getting noticed. The last time they broke into the top 10 was way back in 1997 when they were No. 9.
ESPN.com/USA Softball has them at No. 12, USA Today/NFCA at No. 13.
So when the Gophers baseball schedule comes out, what is the first thing you look at?
For me, it's easy. When is the first home game -- now that the Metrodome is history and the Gophers play outside at the new Seibert Field.
In 2015, there is a 3 p.m. nonconference game scheduled with Augsburg on March 24.
Think they will get that game in? The average temperature in Minneapolis that date, based on figures from 1998 to 2012, is between 33 and 46. It is rarely below 21, or above 60.
Bring a jacket.
It's usally partly cloudy with a 45 percent chance of precipitation, usually a little snow, but it's least likely to fall around 4 p.m.
There's an 18 percent chance there will be snow on ground. (Seems low.) And the average depth, if there is snow, is 4.6 inches.
Seibert has artificial turf and is set up to drain well. So if the weather gods smile on the Gophers, they'll sure try to play.
Here is a breakdown of the rest of the schedule -- divided into four parts:
I. The Southern Trek (18 games, plus 1 exhibition)
Anderson's boys of spring start out with seven games in Texas, three vs. Houston Feb. 13-15, four vs. Texas, Feb. 20-22.
Then it's on to Fort Myers, Fla., for three games vs. Florida Gulf Coast Feb. 27-28 and March 1 and an exhibition with the Minnesota Twins on March 4.
Next stop is Omaha, March 6-8 for two games against Creighton and, in between, one against North Dakota.
Final stop on this southern swing is Richmond, Va., for the VCU (Virginia Commonwalth Univ.) PK5 Classic March 13-15 (three games) and two games vs. Richmond March 17-18.
II. The Big Ten road swing (14 games)
The Gophers open the Big Ten season on the road at conference newcomer Maryland, March 20-22, in College Park. And three of their first four series in conference play are on the road.
Next is Northwestern at home, March 27-29, weather permitting.
Then on the road again, at Rutgers, the other new conference team, April 3-5 in Piscataway, N.J. and at Nebraska, April 10-12.
Now blended in there, on weekdays, are nonconference games at home against Augsburg, as mentioned above, on March 24 and St. Thomas, on April 8.
III. Home sweet home (20 games)
After returning from Lincoln, Neb. The Gophers can pretty much put their suitcases away. They are home for 16 of their final 20 regular-season games.
North Dakota, April 14
Penn State, April 17-19
South Dakota State, April 22
Michigan, April 24-26
Kansas State, April 28-29
California-Irvine, May 1-3
Then two nearby out-of-town junkets:
At North Dakota State, May 5
At Iowa, May 8-10
And then a closing series at Seibert:
Michigan State, May 14-16
The top eight Big Ten teams advance to the conference tournament and the champion there gets an automatic NCAA bid.
What's nice for the Gophers is that for the second time in three years, the Big Ten Tournament is at Target Center, May 20-23.
The regionals are May 29-31
The super regionals are June 5-7
The College World Series in Omaha is June 13-15.
Big Ten schedule breakdown
Play on the road: Maryland, Rutgers, Nebraska, Iowa
Play at home: Northwestern, Penn State, Michigan, Michigan State
Not on schedule: Indiana, Illinois, Purdue, Ohio State
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