U dominates Indiana with sweep

Michael Rand

Considering the recent offensive struggles of the Gophers softball team, its eight-run outburst in the first inning of Saturday’s series opener against Indiana was a little surprising, even to its optimistic coach Lisa Bernstein-O’Brien.
And because of Minnesota’s silent bats in the past couple weeks — just three runs per game in its last six contests before this weekend — it would have been natural for Berstein-O’Brien to wonder if the team should have saved some runs for the rest of the series.
As it turned out, however, the Gophers still had plenty of runs left over for game two. With the Big Ten’s eight-run rule in effect, Minnesota (25-9, 2-3 in the Big Ten) ended both games in five innings, winning 9-1 and 12-2 over the Hoosiers (21-10, 5-2). Sunday’s series finale was canceled because of snow.
“Oh, we hit the ball,” Bernstein-O’Brien said, rattling off a list of players who had big days at the plate. “We knew we were going to get on their pitching.”
The Gophers eight-run first, while unusual in itself, was also unorthodox in how it came about. Laura Peters singled with one out. After Amber Hegland popped to second, Shannon Beeler drew a two-out walk. Renee Sbrocco, who entered the game batting just .196, followed with a three-run homer to left field.
“I wasn’t planning on the home run. I just wanted to get a base hit,” Sbrocco said. “Everyone knew I was struggling. I just wanted to say, ‘Let’s g~o!'”
It looked as if the Hoosiers would get out of the inning after that, but third baseman Monica Armendarez’s throwing error on Jennifer Fox’s routine ground ball extended the inning. A hit and a walk loaded the bases, and another walk pushed the Gophers’ fourth run across the plate.
That brought leadoff hitter Rachel Nelson — who struck out in her first at bat — up for the second time in the inning. The result was much different as Nelson sent a drive into deep right-center field. The ball grazed the top of the wall and then bounced over for a grand slam.
Minnesota coasted for the rest of the first game behind the strong pitching of Jennifer Johnson. The senior allowed four hits and one run in five innings.
The Gophers spread their runs out in the second game, scoring one in the first inning, three in the second, three in the fourth and finishing with five in the fifth. Nelson, Hegland and Beeler led the way with three hits each.
For a team that was focusing on scoring more runs and shaking off last weekend’s sweep by Michigan State to start Big Ten play, Saturday’s wins brought everything together.
“We took a step outside ourselves,” Nelson said. “We remembered how we played against Michigan State. We saw the two different teams we were.”
Bernstein-O’Brien, as well as several players, said the series could be a turning point for the team. It’s not as if the Gophers were floundering — they were still 23-9 before this weekend — but they weren’t playing up to their expectations.
“We had to have it put in our face, being swept by Michigan State,” Sbrocco said. “This is the way we should have been playing all year.”
The Gophers, who are in the midst of a long stretch of home games, will try to continue what they started in a doubleheader against Iowa State on Tuesday. Minnesota’s next Big Ten series is this weekend against Penn State.
“You could just see the confidence grow as the day went on,” Bernstein-O’Brien said. “It’s the kind of day that could get us on a roll.”


GAME ONE
Indiana 000 10 — 1 4 2
Gophers 800 1x — 9 7 0
Martinez, Creith (1) and Gayer; Johnson and Bartholmey. W — Johnson, 6-5. L — Martinez, 10-4. HR — Gophers, Sbrocco (1), Nelson (1). Michigan, Montgomery (9). T — 1:15. A — 382.

GAME TWO
Gophers 130 35 — 12 16 3
Indiana 101 00 — 2 4 3
Klaviter and Bartholmey; Creith, Martinez (4) and Gayer. W — Klaviter, 11-3. L — Creith, 11-5. T — 1:45. A — 382.

Gophers hitting statistics (2 games)
AB R H RBI
Nelson 6 6 5 5
Beeler 6 2 4 3
Hegland 7 2 3 3
Peters 6 2 3 0
Sbrocco 6 2 2 4
Midthun 4 2 2 0
Fox 6 1 2 2
Halvorson 4 1 1 0
Bartholmey 5 0 1 0
Hansmann 1 0 0 0
Schwartz 0 2 0 0
Bennett 0 1 0 0
Carey 0 0 0 1
Ballard 0 0 0 1
Totals 51 21 23 19