Sorenson: Minnesota Outslugs UCIAnalysis
IRVINE, Calif. — Heading down the 405 freeway today as I was driving to Irvine, I was thinking to myself, “Well, this is UC Irvine and Minnesota… traditionally they have had a lot of good pitching, so this should be a quick game. Runs will be at a premium.”
Oi vey. Was I wrong.
This one turned into a highly offensive game from the get-go. And I mean “offensive” in both pronunciations, if you dig what I’m saying. Minnesota ended the game with 15 hits and nine runs and UCI had nine hits and eight runs. Even more telling was the fact that there were a total of 11 pitchers used and the game lasted three-and-a-half hours.
First off, here are a few things I have never seen before.
1- I’ve never seen UC Irvine struggle so much on the mound that the Anteaters would end up using seven pitchers and never quite figure out the answer.
2- I’ve never seen an exit speed off a bat like Keston Hiura showed tonight, especially in his fourth inning screaming line out to second base and his sixth inning three-RBI triple. That ball jumps off Hiura’s bat like a sugared-up six-year old off a trampoline.
3- I’ve never seen a batting order that has eight left-handed sticks and one right-hander, like Minnesota has.
4- I’ve never seen a game where a team with eight left-handed bats oppose a team that had eight right-handed bats, like UC Irvine did.
I know it’s early, but the Gophers have to be one of the top offensive teams in the country this season. These dudes were relentless through the first three innings, posting three markers in each of the first three frames. Sure, some of their hits were little bloops or bleeders that found a hole but they also got a monster blast home run from Eduardo Estrada in the third inning and a pair of well-hit two-RBI singles from Micah Coffey. And they were really disciplined and took advantage of mistake pitches big time.
“I was impressed with our approach tonight,” Minnesota coach John Anderson said “I thought we managed our emotions really well in the first three innings. When it’s the first game of the season sometimes you get too anxious. But we went deep into counts and fouled off some pitches and didn’t chase too many wild pitches.”
The Anteaters weren’t far behind in the early going, posting 2-1-2 in those first three innings to keep it relatively close at 9-5. Keston Hiura sliced a first-inning single and Ryan Fitzpatrick followed that with a two-run home run to answer the Gophers initial three-run charge. In the third inning, after the ‘Eaters found themselves down 9-3, Adam Alcantara scorched an RBI triple to the wall and was followed by Cole Kreuter’s RBI single.
But then the pitching and defense finally started to come around for both squads, as the game went scoreless the next two and a half innings.
In the bottom of the sixth, Irvine made things interesting. Two walks and a single loaded the bases. The second walk of that sequence was particularly interesting since Tyler Hanson had two-hole hitter Mikey Duarte at a full count, with two men on, two men out and All American DH Keston Hiura on deck. But Hanson’s full-count pitch went wild, allowing the bases to be juiced and the intimidating Hiura taking his spot in the batter’s box.
The Gophers went to the ‘pen to have senior Tim Shannon square off with Hiura. Three pitches later, Hiura was clearing the bases with a sonic screamer to the wall in deep center field. Suddenly, it was a 9-8 game. Shannon was able to escape the inning with a third out to Ryan Fitzpatrick, but it was an all-new game after that.
But give some credit to Shannon and the Gophers, they didn’t wilt under the momentum swing. He got the Eaters to go three-up, three-down the next two innings to keep the close-shave lead on the SoCal boys.
In the ninth inning, the Gophers brought in Brian Glowicki – a mid-90s right-handed flinger – from the bullpen and he obliged with a three-up, three-down frame to lock down the W. The highlight was his one-out showdown with Hiura who took a trio of mighty cuts, one of which was fouled off into the backstop netting and the other two reaching nothing but air. It was a huge out.
“It can’t be all about Hiura,” UCI coach Mike Gillespie said afterward. “We had a lot of offensive miscues. In the sixth inning we couldn’t get a bunt down with men on first and second and we also had two hit-and-runs where we popped up.”
It’s definitely a good win for the Gophers, who are making the most of a west coast swing for RPI points and hope to have the selection committee make sure to remember this win and this series when the month of May comes around.
Let me say this, I am not sure if I’ve ever seen a team with this much quality lefthanded hitting. Eight of the nine batters in the UM order hit from the southpaw position and this is a sweet swinging order too. Not intimidated in the least and seemingly even more confident than the Gopher squad I saw last year, which led the Big 10 with a .322 team average.
The top of the Gopher order was spot-on for the most part as leadoff man Alex Boxwell reached base in four of his five at-bats, pulling in a pair of walks, a plunking and a single. Two-spot hitter Luke Petterson, who was not anticipated to make it into the starting lineup back in the fall, went a perfect 4-for-4. Terrin Vavra had a walk and an RBI single in his first two at-bats.
“I said going into the season that we were going to have a good offensive team,” Anderson said. “We played good defense tonight but pitching-wise we lost some key guys from last year, so we are just going to have to find out our roles with our pitching staff for the first month or so.”
The weekend didn’t start well for the Anteaters, who had to go to freshman arm Andrew Pallante tonight instead of expected Friday starter Cameron Bishop, due to a ruptured oblique muscle Bishop suffered during the week leading up to the opener. Bishop is expected to be a top three round draft pick this June.
Despite the short 1.2 innings of work where he gave up six runs on five hits, coach Gillespie is still enthused about the potential Pallante shows.
“I think his performance was that of a freshman,” Gillespie said. “You can see he’s got a very good arm. I hate to think we have to wait a year or two years for him to be a star. We think it can happen next week, but he’s gotta grow. I like his future.”
Gillespie bemoaned his lack of stopping power in the bullpen arms as the key to the loss.
“The moral of the story tonight was when they get one run, you can’t let them get two. And when they get two runs you can’t let them get six. Somebody’s got to put a stop to it and we didn’t do that tonight.”
Here are the particulars of the game.
Minnesota – 333 000 000 – 9 15 1
U.C. Irvine – 212 003 000 – 8 9 0
WP: Lucas Gilbreath, 1-0
LP: Andrew Palliate, 0-1
Save: Brian Giowicki, 1
– Luke Pettersen, 4-for-4, 2RBI
– Micah Coffey, 2-for-5, 4RBI
– Eduardo Estrada, 1-for-4, 2RBI
– Keston Kiura, 2-for-4, 3RBI, double
– Adam Alcantara, 3-for-3, RBI
– Evan Cassolato, 2-for-4