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
Gophers coach Stefanie Golan started her four seniors on Senior Night at Elizabeth Lyle Robbie Stadium in St. Paul.
Those four are Katie Thyken, Olivia Schultz, Taylor Wodnick and Becca Roberts.
But the visitors, Iowa, spoiled the festivities.
The Hawkeyes won 1-0, getting a goal from an unusual source, or head, to be more specific.
Sophomore Amanda Lulek, all 5-7 of her, scored on a header in the 33rd minute following a corner kick. It was her first goal of the season, no wait, it was her first goal of her college career. And it came on her only shot of the game, and first of the year in three matches.
Want more hard-to-believe stuff. Lulek scored under a minute after she went into the game. She entered at 31:38 and scored at 32:31.
"Heartbreaking loss as we played great," Golan tweeted. "1st time we've been shut out all year but the soccer looked great."
The Gophers had a 22-9 advantage in shots and a 5-1 edge in shots on goal.
Trouble was, they went up against a hot, hot goalie. Junior Hannah Clark of Iowa came into the game with three consecutive shutouts. Now it's four in a row. She had not allowed a goal in 363 minutes and 13 seconds.
Her play has helped Iowa start 8-1 overall, 3-0 in the Big Ten. That's the best conference start for Iowa ever.
This was only the fourth win for Iowa over the Gophers and their first in the Land of 10,000 Lakes since 2007.
Clark made five saves. Rachel McCloskey had the Gophers last shot, at 89:31, but it went wide.
Gophers goalie Tarah Hobbs, the returning Big Ten goalkeeper of the year, made only one save, in the 88th minute.
The loss drops the Gophers to 4-5 overall, 1-2 in the Big Ten. After scoring 10 goals against Stetson in their season opener, Minnesota only has nine goals in the last eight games.
Thyken led the Gophers in shots against Iowa with six, Haley Helverson led in shots on goal with two. And the Gophers had an 8-1 edge in corner kicks, but Iowa scored on the only one the Hawkeyes had.
Iowa also had one of the best scoring chances in the game very early, At 8:52, Cloe Lacasse hit a post.
Coach Hugh McCutcheon had to be pleased Friday with his team's second match.
The Gophers dispatched Toledo 25-13, 25-18, 25-18. And four players had 10 or more kills: Sarah Wilhite had 14, Daly Santana 12, and Hannah Tapp and Adrianna Nora 10 apiece.
Expecting the biggest crowd of the day, no doubt, for the late match in the Rocket Invite, the Rockets unveiled last season’s 2013 Mid-American Conference championship banner before play began.
It didn't help.
The Gophers hit .402 -- remember .300 is good in volleyball as it is in baseball -- for an attack percentage, and held Toledo to .168.
“Minnesota is a great team,” Rockets coach Greg Smith said. “They stay really consistent and force you into doing things you’re not used to doing.
"We hung with them and had some good runs, but they’re such a good team that it puts a lot of pressure on us.”
And four Gophers were pounding away for big points. ... Paige Tapp and Nora blocked a spike for set point in Game 1. Paige Tapp's kill ended Game 2 and Laura Calvori's ace ended the match.
Minnesota, now 9-1, beat Duquesne earlier, 25-17, 25-17, 25-19.
Wilhite had 26 kills in the two matches and hit .355. Santana had 19 kills total.
Next up is IPFW, short for Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne. The Mastodons beat Duquesne on Friday night to end a six-match winning streak.
The Gophers should beat 'em to win the tournament.
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