The Oregon State Beavers continue their march to Omaha this weekend hosting the Minnesota Golden Gophers for a best of three series. The winner officially gets their ticket to the College World Series punched and a new banner in the outfield.
Minnesota reaching this stage of the tournament is something that hasn’t happened in several decades, so Gopher fans are obviously pretty excited. To help us get a sense of what folks in the land of 10,000 lakes are thinking about their team and this weekend’s series, we chatted with a fellow college baseball blogger with the handle GopherNation from SB Nation’s Minnesota blog The Daily Gopher.
1. It’s been a while since Minnesota was back in the super regionals. What’s so special about this team?
GN: Technically Minnesota has never been to a Super Regional. The last time they made the CWS, it was before the Supers were a thing. Coming into the season, we knew this team was going to be very good at the plate and in the field. Of everyone who hit over .250 last year (10 guys), only one did not return. Much was expected of this lineup and they performed as expected. But they lost 60% of their total innings pitched. Their Friday and Saturday starters were gone as well as their dominant closer. While the lineup instilled confidence in this team, the pitching had some major question marks. And a few guys answered those questions beyond what anyone can imagine. Patrick Fredrickson locked down the Saturday starter role and went on to be the Big Ten’s Freshman of the Year and Pitcher of the Year. Just this week he awarded as the National Freshman Pitcher of the Year by Collegiate Baseball. Then Max Meyer, also a true freshman locked down the closer role, also earning himself Big Ten and national awards. With Reggie Meyer returning and locking down as the Friday starter, then these two freshmen stepping up in big ways, this team became dangerous in all facets of the game.
2. What did that regional win mean to Minnesota fans as a whole?
GN: It is interesting because there is a long and successful tradition of Gopher baseball, but there really isn’t much fan interest in the program. So getting to host the regional, playing so well in what were entertaining games in front of a packed stadium was really great for the program. I’m not sure what it means to the fans, but I think it means a lot for the program. Hopefully, it translates into more interest. But it is a northern team, so things are different here for college baseball than it is on the west coast or the south.
Thank you to all of the fans that came out to support @GopherBaseball this weekend. This is a special group who EARNED this opportunity. Our success is a result of the hard work and commitment of countless alumni over the years that have helped build this program. #family pic.twitter.com/x12o2ldLAb— Ty McDevitt (@TwhymcD) June 4, 2018
3. Which aspects of OSU’s game are you most concerned about?
GN: Everything. I really see them and Minnesota as similar teams with two elite starters, good defense and a deep lineup. Of course, Beaver players are being drafted in the first round and this talent is really good. Also worth noting that this program is used to being here.
4. Who are Minnesota’s biggest weapons at the plate?
GN: At the plate, the Gophers are led by Terrin Vavra. The junior was just drafted by the Rockies in the third round and his father has been an assistant coach with the Twins and now Detroit for Ron Gardenhire. While he’s the most accomplished hitter, what makes this lineup dangerous is that there are few holes. Watch out for Toby Hanson who hits 9th, was expected to be one of the best hitters in the middle of the order before mid-season injuries slowed him. But he’s heating up. Much like Oregon State, this team has a deep lineup that can beat you from anywhere. And collectively they manufacture runs incredibly well.
5. Minnesota’s got some decent talent on this roster from the Pacific Northwest. To what do you attribute that?
GN: Well the first one to note is Eli Wilson, that one is easy to explain. His father is Dan Wilson who was the long-time catcher for the Mariners and also played his collegiate career for Minnesota. While on a recruiting trip to visit Eli, the Gopher coaches saw Fredrickson pitching. According to interviews with skipper John Anderson, Fredrickson was a bit of a late bloomer and by the time he bloomed many of the west coast teams had filled up their scholarships. He took a visit to the Twin Cities and decided to be a Gopher.
6. Who do you predict wins this series and in how many games?
GN: The obvious prediction is Oregon State, I’d be foolish to predict otherwise. But I’ll lay out how the Gophers can do it. Game one is interesting because likely Heimlich is starting that game. He’s a dominant lefty and the Gopher lineup has an inordinate amount of lefties. But you know what? This team has been really good against left-handed starters. So, can they get to Heimlich? It is possible, but I am not pinning my hopes on this one. I think Minnesota loses this one and it wouldn’t surprise me if it one that isn’t super close. Game two is where we really put out our best pitcher though and this team is resilient. I think they bounce back and win this one in a low-scoring affair. Then it gets to Game three and all bets are off. OSU hasn’t had a great record in “game threes” and are 1-3-1 in their last 5 “game threes.”
Go check out TheDailyGopher.com for more on University of Minnesota sports.