One day last fall at Siebert Field, Brian Glowicki arrived for practice and found fellow Gophers pitcher Lucas Gilbreath recalibrating the bullpen mound, a mechanical engineering major obsessing over the angle of the front-foot landing spot.
“I look over, and he’s on his hands and knees, shaving things down,” Glowicki said. “I said, ‘Gil, what are you doing, man?’ We’ve got a ground crew for that.’ ”
Gilbreath smiled at the memory this week, as the first-place Gophers prepped for a key Big Ten showdown Friday against Nebraska.
“If I ever see anything broken or out of place, I’m always trying to do something,” Gilbreath said. “I get a little picky about mounds sometimes.”
The mound was the place coach John Anderson thought the Gophers might have the biggest issues after losing several top pitchers from last year’s Big Ten championship team. But Gilbreath and Glowicki have stepped into bigger roles and thrived.
A junior lefthander from Westminster, Colo., Gilbreath was a set-up reliever last year. Now, he’s the No. 1 starter. He’ll take the mound Friday night at Siebert with a 4-0 record and a 2.28 ERA. He’s holding opponents to a .174 batting average.
Glowicki, a senior righthander from Downers Grove, Ill., had a middle-relief role last season. Now he’s a closer with a 0.44 ERA and a Big Ten-best 12 saves.
Their combined success has helped propel the Gophers to a 7-2 conference start, all on the road.
“We thought we’d be good on defense,” coach John Anderson said. “We thought we’d be good enough on offense to score four runs at least. Pitching’s been the surprise of everything we’ve done.”
Anderson credits volunteer pitching coach Ty McDevitt for his work with the whole staff, helping fill the void left last May, when the team’s 18-year pitching coach, Todd Oakes, died of leukemia.
The Gophers overcame their grief, winning their first Big Ten title since 2010. Their top two starters from that team — Dalton Sawyer and Matt Fielder — and closer Jordan Jess all signed pro contracts after the season.
After posting a 1.36 ERA last season, mostly in relief, Gilbreath went to the Cape Cod League for the summer. He converted into a starter last fall, when he wasn’t working on the mound.
“He’s never had a high batting average against,” Anderson said. “It’s always been that it takes a boatload of pitches to get somebody out. So we were worried about his pitch count. At first, we were lucky — if he got through the fifth inning, it was a celebration.”
Anderson said he considered moving Gilbreath back to the bullpen earlier this season. But with Glowicki dominating in the closer’s role, the 36th-year coach decided to ride things out. That patience has been rewarded.
Last Friday, the Gophers won 11-0 at Indiana, as Gilbreath allowed just two hits in 7⅔ innings, with eight strikeouts.
“He’s figuring out how to be a starter,” Anderson said. “He always had the stuff.”
The same goes for Glowicki, whose fastball has been clocked in the low- to mid-90-miles-per-hour range. He posted a 7.04 ERA in Big Ten play last season but got a chance to close last summer for the St. Cloud Rox in the Northwoods League and produced a 1.80 ERA.
This year for the Gophers, Glowicki has 24 strikeouts and two walks in 20⅓ innings.
“Every time you see one-seven [No. 17] running out to the mound, you know you’re about to shake hands,” Gilbreath said, meaning the game will soon be over.
The stock for both pitchers keeps soaring heading into the MLB draft on June 12. The Rockies took Gilbreath in the 36th round three years ago, but he chose the college route instead. Players who attend college must wait three years before becoming draft-eligible again, so his next turn is coming soon.
“Obviously, it would be a great experience to play professional baseball, but I’d love to come back here another year,” he said. “So we’ll see where it takes us.”
Glowicki hoped to get drafted last year.
“As a junior, it didn’t go my way,” he said. “So I kind of put goals aside and said, ‘Let’s go out and win games for the Gophers and enjoy my time here, and let the rest take care of itself.’ ”