by: Daniel House

After sweeping the Minneapolis Regional and advancing to a Super Regional for the first time in program history, the Gophers baseball team has a chance to make more history. Coach John Anderson’s team will compete for their first College World Series appearance since 1977. A best of three-series against one of the nation’s top teams is the only thing standing in Minnesota’s way.

The road runs through Oregon State, one of the top programs every year in college baseball. Long-time manager Paul Casey’s team has only missed the NCAA Tournament twice in the past 13 seasons. The Beavers advanced to the College World Series last year and were carried by a balanced lineup and two dominant pitchers this season. Oregon State are 47-10-1 in 2018 and finished second behind Stanford in the Pac-12 standings. They took two of three from Stanford late in the season, winning 8 of their final 11 games.

In the final series of the season against UCLA (the Gophers’ last opponent), the Beavers won the series, but lost the third game 4-1. Minnesota will likely see ace left-hander Luke Heimlich in the first game on Friday afternoon. He went 15-1 with a 2.42 ERA this season, winning the most games by a starter in the NCAA. Heimlich has a mid-90s fastball with a dominant slider that fans batters when he gets ahead in the count. His pitching style froze batters as he ranked sixth in total strikeouts among NCAA pitchers. Heimlich was considered a draft prospect, but wasn’t selected due to character concerns. He is a convicted sex offender and the story made headlines when he failed to file paperwork on time last year. On the field, Heimlich has been the top pitcher for Oregon State this year and will be the biggest test for the Gophers this weekend. The Gophers will likely start junior Reggie Meyer (8-3, 2.62 ERA) to go toe-to-toe with the Beavers’ top pitcher.

In game two, Minnesota will turn to Big Ten Freshman Pitcher of the Year, Patrick Fredrickson. He is 9-0 with a 1.76 ERA, picking up a no-decision in Minnesota’s 3-2 win over UCLA in last week’s Minneapolis regional. He walked five batters in the game, but pitched out of numerous jams to keep the game within striking distance for the Gophers. Sophomore right-hander Bryce Fehmel is the projected Day 2 starter for Oregon State. He finished 10-1 this season with a 2.77 ERA, striking out 54 batters in just over 97 innings. He has a low-90s fastball with a respectable breaking ball. If the bullpen is needed, Jake Mulholland (1-2, 2.43 ERA) and left-hander Brandon Eisert (4-3, 2.74 ERA) have been key relievers for the Beavers in 2018.

The two games are lining up to be pitcher’s duals if each team can control each other’s powerful lineups. Oregon State finished third in the NCAA in team batting average, hitting .317 and slashing 607 hits. Every player in the Oregon State lineup except two batters had season averages over .300. Four of their position players were selected in the MLB draft, along with pitcher Drew Rasmussen, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery.

The lineup is led by second baseman Nick Madrigal, who was selected with the No. 4 overall pick in the MLB Draft by the White Sox earlier this week. In 2018, Madrigal hit. 406 with three home runs and 32 runs batted in. He only played in 32 games after missing early portions of the season with a fractured hand. He is considered one of these best hitters in the entire country. Madrgial hits in the No. 3 spot and is known for his above average fielding ability. In addition to Madrgial, shortstop Cadyn Grenier was picked in the first round by the Baltimore Orioles. His .328 average and fielding ability pair (Pac-12 defensive player of the Year) with Madrigal to create a solid middle infield for the Beavers.

In the outfield, right fielder Trevor Larnach, the Beavers’ clean-up hitter was drafted in the first round by the Minnesota Twins. He belted 17 home runs, while batting .327 and driving in 65 runs. He is the one key player the Gophers will need to pitch carefully to in the middle lineup. Lead-off hitter and centerfield Steven Kwan hit .349 this year and was was selected in the fifth round of the MLB draft by the Indians. Behind the plate, sophomore catcher Adley Rutschman has the 13th-best batting average in the NCAA, hitting .380 and driving in 66 runs.

Finally, third baseman Michael Gretler, another power-hitter in the middle of the lineup, was selected in the tenth round by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He belted seven home runs, hit .314 and drove in 43 runs. There isn’t an easy out in the Oregon State lineup, which will force the Gophers' pitchers to be very careful and deliberate when attacking the strike zone.

Minnesota has a very balanced lineup as well with four players hitting over .300, including Colorado Rockies third round pick, SS Terrin Vavra, who has a .393 batting average. The games could be low scoring, but with the hitting ability among both of these teams, there’s a chance more runs could be scored.

If the Gophers can edge out one win, the Oregon State pitching staff is less stifling. Kevin Abel (4-1, 3.58 ERA) would likely start the final game. If the series goes to a third game, Minnesota might need to squeak out a win during a high-scoring affair. Since the Gophers have Reggie Meyer and Patrick Fredrickson available to pitch the first two games, anything is possible. Minnesota has a top-ten ERA in the NCAA and certainly have the pitching power to slow one of the top lineups in college baseball.

With two power lineups and quality pitching squaring off, this Super Regional will be entertaining for fans who enjoy quality baseball.


For a feature on John Anderson and the special phone call he made to his daughter before Sunday night's regional championship game, click here.