By the middle of the second inning – with Louis Coleman on the mound – the Tigers could not have felt more comfortable.
Nursing a four-run lead built off a four-hit top of the second, everything seemed to be going right early for the first time all weekend.
“We came out wanting to be aggressive at the plate, and I think it showed,” said left fielder Ryan Schimpf – who was 3-for-5 with a homerun and a pair of RBI on the night. “We needed this.”
First there was DJ LeMahieu, who roped a double to right center that scored Micah Gibbs and moved Sean Ochinko to third. Getting his first start of the weekend, Derek Helenihi followed with a two-run single up the middle.
The senior scored on a Schimpf double that ended the frame, seeing Jared Mitchell get thrown out at the plate on a not-so-close attempt at taking home from first.
The aggressiveness on the paths, which the Tigers had built many of their high-scoring games off of, was evident from the start.
“I think coach [Javy] Sanchez made the right call,” Mainieri said. “We have said all year that we want to keep the pressure on when we get a hit with men in scoring position and two outs. We want them to have to throw us out.”
Fortunately, scoring with the long ball - which Blake Dean and Matt Clark made so routine in 2008 - remains in the arsenal.
Dean, who was 1-for-8 through the first two games of the weekend, drove a 1-1 pitch to left field to jump-start the third – his 15th home run on the year.
Two singles and a sacrifice fly later, the Tiger bats had extended the lead to 7-0.
“The one thing about our team is that we hit and pitch,” Dean said. “It is just a matter of time before our hitting really catches on. It just takes that one swing to get ahead, and then the pitcher can come in and shut them down.”
Micah Gibbs, who tapped the Gophers for a team-high four hits, doubled in the sixth to score Dean – handing Coleman a run-cushion unlike he had experienced all season.
“It makes it a lot easier to pitch, but at the same time you don’t want to give up a lot of runs,” Coleman said. “I still pitch like it is 0-0. Even if you do give up a solo home run here and there, you know that the guys are swinging the bats and you have a lot of runs.”
With the lone freshmen – Mikie Mahtook and Austin Nola – the only starters to go hitless on the evening, everything seems to be falling in line.
“We don’t want to have to put the same pressure on [Austin] Ross, [Anthony] Ranaudo and Coleman that we had to at times this year, so tonight’s performance says a lot about where this team is headed if we can put it all together at once,” Schimpf said. “It was a great thing to see.”
For Mainieri, the top-to-bottom performance is evidence of just how hot his ball club has gotten.
“I very much expected us to hit well,” he said. “It was good to see. This makes three weekends in a row that we’ve won a championship. I don’t think winning championships ever gets old, it’s always a lot of fun.”