Four years ago, the Gophers baseball team advanced to an NCAA tournament Super Regional against Oregon State, one step from the men's College World Series. One year later, the Gophers softball team took it one step further, knocking off LSU in a Super Regional to reach the women's College World Series.
Both teams had their 2022 seasons end last weekend under different circumstances.
John Anderson's baseball squad finished 16-36 and last in the Big Ten Conference for a second consecutive year. With only eight teams making this week's conference tournament, the Gophers will be home watching, and next season, Anderson will be entering the final year of his contract.
Piper Ritter's softball team reached the NCAA tournament this year, overcoming the 11th-toughest schedule in the nation. But the Gophers fell to Texas A&M twice last weekend, and finished 27-26-1.
Both teams have much higher aspirations moving forward. Here are three reasons for hope and three reasons for concern for Gophers baseball.
Three reasons for hope
Led by redshirt senior Jack Kelly (.324 batting average, eight home runs and team-high 45 RBI), the Gophers offense showed improvement in 2022. The Gophers batted .251 as a team and hit 48 home runs, after batting .236 with 31 home runs in 2021.
2. Filling voids
Sophomores Boston Merila and Brett Bateman each played in all 52 games and helped fill the void after redshirt senior Easton Bertrand was injured. Bertrand was hitting .383 after 14 games but didn't play in the Gophers' final 38 games. Merila batted .267 and Bateman hit .312 and stole 21 bases — the most by a Gopher since 2010. Aidan Maldonado, a redshirt junior from Rosemount and transfer from Illinois, developed into the Gophers' most consistent pitcher. On the season, he was 2-3 with a 3.91 ERA in 13 starts and struck out 90 in 73 2/3 innings. In his final 12 starts, he allowed 25 earned runs in 66 1/3 innings (3.34 ERA).
3. Young roster
Over half of the Gophers' 37-player roster was comprised of freshmen and sophomores — 12 freshmen, seven sophomores. The Gophers have signed nine recruits who will be freshmen in the fall. The recruiting class includes six pitchers, two catchers and an infielder. Six of the recruits are Minnesotans, including Eastview lefthander T.J. Egan, who struck out 50 in his first 22 innings this spring for the Lightning, and North St. Paul righthander Sam Kennedy, who is 3-0 with an 0.64 ERA for the Polars.
Three reasons for concern
1. Slow progress
The Gophers have had just five losing seasons in 41 seasons under Anderson; three have come since 2019. The last time the Gophers baseball program had back-to-back losing seasons was in 1949-50. After winning their season opener on Feb. 18 at Florida Atlantic, the Gophers won only four of their next 19 games. A three-game sweep of Western Illinois gave them an 8-15 record going into conference play. But the Gophers opened Big Ten play 0-5, and lost five of their final seven games.
After a disastrous season in 2021 — an 8.09 ERA, 14 pitchers with an ERA over 6.00 and an opponents batting average of .308 — there was some improvement in 2022. The Gophers had a 6.56 ERA and .279 opponents batting average this season. Eleven pitchers who did not make a start combined for an 8.78 ERA in 134 1/3 innings.
3. Protecting a lead
In the Gophers' 36 losses, they held a lead in 14 games. The Gophers struggled all season to avoid big innings. Gophers opponents scored four or more runs in an inning 27 times during the season. Almost one-third of the Gophers losses were by two runs or less. The Gophers had five losses by one run and six losses by two runs.