Gophers struggle in test against one of nation’s best

Minnesota lost three of its five games in the Bulldog Invite.

Marco LaNave

The Gophers had a chance to see how they measured up to one of the best softball teams in the country this weekend, and they showed they still have far to go. Minnesota (9-13) was shut out in both of its games against host Georgia (No. 4 ESPN.com/USA Softball poll) and lost three of five games at the Bulldog Invitational in Athens, Ga. The Gophers dropped a 7-0 contest Friday and were no-hit Saturday in an 8-0, five-inning loss to the Bulldogs. âÄúThey have enough offensive power to win the national championship. They hit the ball hard against us; their pitching is good,âÄù co-head coach Lisa Bernstein said. âÄúWe made the plays that we could and itâÄôs great for our kids to see what the best in the nation can do.âÄù Georgia also no-hit Belmont in a five-inning game Friday. Gophers sophomore Alissa Koch took the loss in the no-hitter to drop to 0-8 this season. Koch was also the losing pitcher the last time Minnesota was no-hit, which came in an 11-0 defeat to the University of Illinois at Chicago on March 15, 2009. The Gophers rebounded with a 2-0 win over Belmont for their first Sunday victory this season. âÄúI was proud of the resiliency of this team,âÄù Bernstein said. Freshman Lacey Middlebrooks struck out 10 batters in a one-hit shutout âÄî her fourth of the season âÄî to improve to 9-5. It was a partially redemptive performance for a pitching staff that struggled for most of the weekend. In a Thursday night visit to Kennesaw State that preceded the Bulldog Invitational, Middlebrooks didnâÄôt finish a start for the first time this season. With a 5-0 lead, she allowed four runs in the bottom of the fourth inning and didnâÄôt return for the fifth. Koch relieved Middlebrooks and gave up a two-run home run to Owls left fielder Sharon Swanson in the fifth that stood as the game winner in a 6-5 Kennesaw State victory. After being outscored 17-2 in a pair of losses Friday, Minnesota snapped a season-high four-game losing streak with a season-best 11-hit outburst in a 9-4 victory Saturday over Elon. Four players had multi-hit games against the Phoenix, who entered the contest with a 9-1 record. âÄúWe found a way to string hits together. We had energy throughout the entire game,âÄù said senior left fielder Heidi Carls, who leads the team with a .315 batting average. âÄúIt was just a fun game to play.âÄù The Gophers will quickly get another crack at a top-flight opponent. They travel to Arizona next weekend and will face the second-ranked Wildcats in the Sunday finale of the Wildcat Invitational , which begins Friday. âÄúWeâÄôre putting our kids in tough situations, going against the best across the country,âÄù Bernstein said. âÄúSometimes we fall a little short, but if you judge it on attitude and effort and hustle, theyâÄôre doing a great job.âÄù