Previewing the Gophers' NCAA Baseball Regional


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Feb 8, 2017
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The Gophers baseball team is set to host their first NCAA Regional since 2000. It will be just the fourth time Minnesota has hosted the event at Siebert Field in Minneapolis. A strong 41-win season led the Gophers to Big Ten regular season and tournament championships. All of the success has the Gophers in a unique position. They’ll open tournament play at home against Canisius at 7 p.m on Friday.

With a balanced lineup, Minnesota ranked 16th nationally in batting average, hitting .303. Junior shortstop Terrin Vavra, son of former Twins bench coach Joe Vavra, led the team with a .385 average, driving in 55 runs. He teamed up with junior left fielder Ben Mezzenga, who finished with a .381 mark. Vavra and Mezzenga each ranked in the top-35 nationally in batting average this season. The Gophers had three other starters finish with batting averages over .300, including first baseman Toby Hanson (.306), second baseman Luke Pettersen (.333), and catcher Eli Wilson (.301). With the balance the Gophers have in their lineup, they can score runs in a hurry.

Not only that, but their 3.11 team ERA ranks tenth in the nation. Junior Reggie Meyer was dominant as the season progressed, fanning batters with an impressive slider. He finished the season with a 2.75 ERA and beautifully complemented freshman ace Patrick Fredrickson.

The Big Ten Freshman of the Year, Frederickson, finished the season 9-0 with a 1.75 ERA. Opponents were batting just .201 against the freshman, who mixes a dominant breaking ball with an upper 80s fastball. With these two pitchers working in the same rotation, the Gophers never lost a three-game series in the regular season. Out of the bullpen, Woodbury, Minn. freshman closer Max Meyer was one of the best relievers in the country. He struck out 43 batters in 37 innings, posting a 1.45 ERA. He has mid-90s heat and a tough breaking ball to lock up opposing hitters. His efforts, along with long relievers Brett Schulze and Jackson Rose provide the bullpen with plenty of options. Schulze led the Big Ten with nine wins this season, finishing with a 2.22 ERA.

The Gophers are positioned to make a deep run, but will need to advance through the Minneapolis regional against quality opponents.

No. 2- UCLA Bruins (No. 19, 36-19 overall, 19-11 PAC-12)
RPI: 26, SOS: 50

The Gophers hosted UCLA earlier this season in the DQ Classic at U.S. Bank Stadium. They lost 6-1 after committing three errors and hitting four batters. Ace Patrick Fredrickson was still working in the bullpen and the team posted just three hits. The Bruins are one of the toughest two-seeds in the entire tournament. Their 2.94 ERA and .982% fielding percentage rank fourth nationally. UCLA has three quality starters with ERAs under 4.00. Senior pitcher Jake Bird ended the season with a 1.99 ERA and a 7-4 record. He is complemented by freshman Zach Pettway (8-4, 3.51 ERA), who threw a three-hit gem against the Gophers in March. Finally, the third pitcher in the rotation, sophomore Ryan Garcia, went 7-1 with a 2.34 ERA, striking out 67 batters.

At the plate, left fielder and lead-off hitter Jeremy Ydens led the team with a .362 average, six homeruns and 16 doubles. In the cleanup spot, sophomore first baseman Michael Toglia is a power hitter, driving in a team-high 53 runs, while posting 11 homeruns. Another tough out is sophomore second baseman Chase Strumpf, who belted a team-high 12 homeruns. The Bruins have a talented lineup from slots 1-5 and teams must keep the ball down in the zone against their power hitters.

The Bruins are the best team in this regional because of their pitching and sound defense. If opposing teams can’t muster run support, the Bruins have a top-heavy lineup that can score runs quickly.

No. 3- Gonzaga Bulldogs (32-22 overall, 16-11 WCC)
RPI: 62, SOS: 116

The theme for the teams in this regional is quality pitching and defense. Gonzaga ranks sixth nationally in pitching (2.96 ERA) behind the talent of 6-foot-8 right-hander Daniel Bies. He struck out 115 batters, posting a 7-4 record. He has a tough fastball in the 90s with a bending curve. The Bulldogs also have two starters with ERAs under 3.00, including submarine-style freshman right-hander Alek Jacob, who won six games with a 2.94 ERA. Also, Casey Legumina, the top closer in the WCC, had 14 saves and 52 strikeouts to go along with a 2.09 ERA. Defensively, the Zags ranked ranked second with a .985% fielding percentage. The formula for the Bulldogs has been sound pitching and defense. Of Gonzaga’s 54 games, 17 were decided by one run or less.

The Bulldogs don’t have a powerful hitting lineup as just one key contributor posted an average over .300 this season. Redshirt freshman third baseman Ernie Yake had a team-high .327 average and 14 doubles. In the middle of the lineup, senior first baseman Jake Vieth and senior outfielder Branson Trube led the Zags with eight homeruns. However, the Gonzaga team batting average was .269, ranking 149th nationally. If teams can score a couple runs, the Gonzaga batting lineup can be controlled.

No. 4- Canisius Golden Griffins (35-20 overall, 16-8 Metro Atlantic)
RPI: 133, SOS: 272

The Golden Griffins have won eight consecutive games and enter the NCAA Tournament with momentum. They won the MAAC Tournament to earn an automatic bid. Canisius is led by senior left-hander J.P. Stevenson – the MAAC Pitcher of the Year. Opponents batted just .182 and struck out 92 times against Stevenson. He finished the season 10-1 with a 2.54 ERA and used a nasty slider to keep hitters off balance. Stevenson posted wins against Ohio State (5-4) and West Virginia (4-3) this year, showing he can stack up against Power-5 competition. Out of the pen, Canisius boasts the MAAC Relief Pitcher of the Year, Tyler Smith. He posted a 1.06 ERA and ten saves in 34 total innings.

At the plate, the team is led by senior first baseman Liam Wilson, who finished the regular season with a .360 average, 27 doubles, and nine homeruns. The third hitter in the lineup, senior third baseman Ryan Stekl, led the Golden Griffins with ten homeruns and 62 runs batted in.

Outside of Wilson and Stekl, Canisius doesn’t have a plethora of threats at the plate. However, the Gophers will be tested early in the tournament by ace J.P. Stevenson, who is one of the top underrated pitchers in the country.

The Gophers will begin tournament play with a 7 p.m. first pitch against Canisius on Friday night. For a complete tournament schedule, click here.

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