Thursday, February 29, 2024

Sluggers hope strong start continues

March 29, 2002
Junior Brett Wattles takes a swing during MSU —

Off to its best start in years, the MSU baseball team prepares for its opening series in Big Ten play this weekend.

The Spartans (15-3) host Minnesota (8-12) in a four-game series this weekend starting with a 2 p.m. contest today at Kobs Field.

Despite the Golden Gophers’ less than impressive record, Spartan manager Tom Mahan said his team won’t be deceived.

“They’ve had a very, very difficult schedule,” Mahan said. They’ve played Miami, they’ve played (No. 8) Alabama - I mean they’ve had a very difficult schedule.

“Minnesota is a very good team, they’re outstanding. They’ve got a lot of guys back (from last season) and they are picked to finish in the top of the league.”

Senior center fielder Chris McCuiston said statistics are fun to look at, but don’t say everything.

“Records are always deceiving,” he said. “You see that record and you have to blow it off and just forget about it.”

Sophomore right-hander Bryan Gale (3-0) gets the nod to start Friday’s game. Gale, who has pitched a team-high 32.1 innings, has a 5.29 ERA in five starts with 24 strikeouts.

“Bryan’s been real consistent for us,” Mahan said. “Knowing Bryan, the pitcher and competitor he is, he’ll keep us in the game and give us a chance to win.”

McCuiston said the team is confident in Gale and the entire staff.

“The pitchers have been unbelievable the past four weeks,” McCuiston said. “They have been dominating other teams and have been very smart and productive.”

Sophomore right-hander Craig Molldrem will get his second start of the season for the Golden Gophers. Molldrem is 2-1 with a 5.14 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 21 innings of work.

The Spartans have struggled in the Big Ten season with Mahan at the helm. Despite having two winning seasons and two years just under the .500 mark, Mahan hasn’t posted a winning record in conference play in his six-year tenure.

McCuiston said playing at home may give MSU an extra lift to open the Big Ten season.

“I think playing at home always gives you a big advantage,” McCuiston said. “You see everyone in the stands and adrenaline starts pumping in your veins.”

Offensively, the Golden Gophers have three players hitting over .400. Sophomore outfielder Sam Steidl leads the way batting .417, while senior outfielder Jason Kennedy and junior second baseman Luke Appert hit .403 and .400, respectively. Kennedy and Appert also share the team lead with three home runs apiece.

“They have some guys that can really swing the bat and we have to be aware of that,” Mahan said. “Our pitchers just have to be aggressive, get ahead of their hitters and challenge them.”

When the two teams squared off last season, the Spartans didn’t fare too well. The teams played two doubleheaders, with MSU coming away with a lone 5-2 victory. The Golden Gophers took the three other contests easily, winning 14-2, 10-1 and 3-0.

“We’re just more experienced than we were last year,” Mahan said. “We’re stronger and wiser and they probably don’t have as much power as they did. But they will run more and steal more bases.”

Mahan is sending two right-handers to the mound for Saturday’s doubleheader, Senior Nick Bates and freshman Tim Day. He will take a look at his staff and see who’s left for Sunday’s contest.

Minnesota will throw right-handers C.J. Woodrow and Josh Krogman on Saturday with southpaw Jay Gagner taking the mound on Sunday.

“We’re just trying to take it like we have all year - one game at a time,” Mahan said. “I don’t even know who’s pitching for us Sunday and I really don’t care. I told them if we play hard every day, approach each game and at bat the same, we’ll be OK.

“It’s going to be a tough weekend for us. We’re going to have to play great baseball to win, there’s no question.”

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