Last season started poorly for the Gophers baseball team and ended the same way.

Minnesota opened with Houston and Texas, two talented teams, in the Lone Star State and was 0-7 before getting a win. The Gophers ultimately finished 9-15 in Big Ten play, which put them in ninth place and left them out of the Big Ten tournament at Target Field.

The top eight advance, the Gophers, who had an 0-9 stretch starting in late April, were one conference win shy. Ouch.

The Gophers' overall record was 21-30, which meant only the second losing season for coach John Anderson in 34 years.

His 35th season starts Friday with a 6 p.m. game against Utah, 16-36-1 last season, at Surprise Stadium in Surprise, Ariz. The stadium is the spring training home of the Kansas City Royals and the Texas Rangers. ... Anderson has 1,172 career wins.

The Gophers return 23 players, including 13 pitchers, and have five seniors.

The team had a 5.40 ERA last season, which has to improve, and gave up more than 200 walks.

Senior lefthander Dalton Sawyer and junior righthander Matt Fiedler give Anderson two possible aces.

Sawyer was 4-3 in eight starts and struck out 38 in 49.2 innings.

Fielder, also a regular outfielder, was 2-0 with one save and had a team-best 2.86 ERA in 15 appearances. He held batters to a .173 average. He also had a team-high 31 RBI and hit four homers.

Relievers Jordan Jess and Ty McDevitt, both seniors, are veterans in the bullpen.

The other two seniors are center fielder Dan Motl, a talented leadoff hitter, and second baseman Connor Schaefbauer. Motl hit .291 with 30 runs, 19 RBI and 13 steals last season. He also had a 17-game hitting streak.

Schaefbauer hit only .260 but led the team with 11 doubles and scored 24 runs. He also was second on the team with 17 multihit games.

One of the most promising new players is Eddie Estrada, a 6-0, 220-pound freshman infielder from Litchfield, Minn. He led the Northwoods League in hitting last summer, batting .443, and was tabbed the state's top college prospect from the Class of 2015.

The Big Ten coaches picked the conference's top teams in a preseason poll, but the list included only the top six. The Gophers were not among them.

Based on Anderson's long resume, the Gophers should have a bounce-back season. And slowly the facilities he can offer his players are improving.

There is a new state-of-the-art locker room and, by midseson, a new batting facility next to Siebert Field will be ready, too.

One quirk about this team is its left-handedness. Seventeen players bat left-handed. That's more than any other team from a Power Five conference has.


After playing Utah on Friday, the Gophers play three more games this weekend in Surprise, Ariz. The schedule:

* Utah Valley, 11 a.m. Sat. ... 19-35 last season

* Utah, 10 a.m. Sun. ... same opponent as in opener

* Oregon State, 2 p.m. Sun. ... Beavers were 39-18-1 last season and made the NCAA tournament. They were 19-10-1 in the Pac-12 to finish second. This season they are the conference favorites in a coaches' preseason poll and a consensus top 10 team in national polls, being ranked as high as No. 5 by Baseball America.