Reusse: Big Ten series for Gophers baseball and softball teams converge

The Gophers softball team moved into Jane Sage Cowles Stadium for the 2000 season. The Gophers baseball team debuted in a new Siebert Field in 2013.

The two ballparks are boutique in size, and make quite the neighbors with their southeast Minneapolis addresses in what’s now a crowded area for Gophers athletics.

The open space between the Cowles’ fence in straightaway center and the Siebert fence in right center is 32 paces, according to my stubby strides.

In this spring of misery for outdoor sports in the Twin Cities, the two Gophers teams were playing host to Big Ten series simultaneously this weekend for the first time in 2022.

I’ve settled on Gopher Hollow, pronounced Dolly Parton-style, as a fitting description for these acres shared by the ballclubs. And there was some definite hootin’ and hollerin’ emanating from down here not long ago.

John Anderson’s 2018 baseball Gophers caught everything, pitched great, had enough hitting, won Big Ten titles, then played host to and won a regional. Siebert was alive and overflowing for those nights.

Ritter was the pitching coach in 2019 when Gophers softball went 3-0 at home to win a regional, then hosted a super regional and swept Louisiana State from the mighty SEC in two games.

The Gophers went to Oklahoma City for the Women’s College World Series — lost twice, but the triumph was in the journey for a softball program from the northern climes.

The pandemic destroyed the spring sports seasons in 2020, and an excruciating season followed by Anderson in 2021, his 40th with the Gophers.

Ritter had replaced Jamie Trachsel (she went to Mississippi State for a larger salary) in 2021. The pitching duo of Amber Fiser and Autumn Pease led the Gophers back to the NCAA tournament.

Move to 2022 and these home series were a chance for Ritter’s team to climb from the Big Ten’s second division, and for Anderson’s team to escape from the bottom rung of the Big Ten that it occupied a year ago.

On a cold, windy Friday night, it was a Gophers sweep — 13-1 in five innings over Maryland in softball, and 7-3 over Penn State, in what was a milestone 600th Big Ten victory as a coach for Anderson (a conference record and then some).

The Saturday schedule had softball starting promptly at 1 pm, and baseball a few minutes after 2 pm

There was a south wind howling, based on which, a hitter would much prefer to be a softball slugger such as the Gophers’ Natalie DenHartog (15 bombs so far), rather than a lefty hitter such as Jack Kelly and Chase Stanke trying to drive a ball out of Siebert.

Around noon, Anderson was in the dugout, going through scouting material, which he had to hold down firmly with that wind.

“These ballparks face in opposite directions,” he said. “The hitters have 20 miles an hour of wind over there, and the pitchers have that here.”

There was a sellout of the 1,050 seats at the softball stadium. Gretchen Larson, a star from the early ’80s, was being honored pregame as the first softball player to have her jersey retired.

She hammed it up very well, to the delight of a mixed crowd of long-time Gophers boosters and youthful softball players.

One problem: The Gophers had not seen Maryland’s ace, 6-foot hard-thrower Courtney Wyche. There was no getting the ball into the wind against her. She went all seven, allowing three hits, with one unearned run, in a 6-1 victory for the Terrapins.

Get ’em tomorrow.

The pitching also was strong across the way at Siebert. JP Massey, a 6-foot-5 senior from Chicago, with a right arm that never could be given up despite its inconsistency, was outstanding for the Gophers for seven innings.

Like their softball counterparts, the Gophers didn’t hit, then the bullpen gave up four runs in the eighth, and Penn State won it 5-1 with what Herb Carneal always told us would be the “rubber game” on Sunday.

Anderson underwent eye surgery last month and he can’t fly for several months. He also can’t see out of his left eye until the healing process is complete.

Through that, and injury taking down his best player, Easton Bertrand, and also others, these Gophers are competing — not just getting pounded, as was the case during the 6-31, entirely-Big Ten schedule in 2021.

As for that No. 600 in the Big Ten — what’s that mean?

“It means we’ve had a lot of great players come through here over the past four decades,” Anderson said. “And there will be more. I’m excited about the nine freshmen we signed, including six very good Minnesota players.”

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