U softball whips

by Mark Heller

It was over almost before it started.
The Gophers women’s softball team tuned itself up nicely before starting the Big Ten season, sweeping a doubleheader against Minnesota State-Mankato 15-0 and 3-0 at the Rice Street/Arlington Dome.
“We came out and hit the ball very well today,” Gophers co-coach Lisa Bernstein said. “And today we were able to score a lot of runs.”
No. 23 Minnesota (24-9) not only scored a lot of runs in the first game, but also wasted little time in doing so.
Senior Steph Midthun led off the bottom of the first inning with her staple hit: the slap single up the middle. It was Midthun’s 200th career hit, making her just the seventh player in Minnesota history to top 200 hits for her career.
After Midthun’s milestone, the Gophers got on and circled the bases with reckless abandon. They were aided by three errors and a three-run homerun by freshman Meghan Smith, the first of her collegiate career. Freshman Jordanne Nygren added her 10th homerun of the season in the first.
Minnesota’s first inning line: 12 runs — only three of which were earned — 10 hits and 15 batters sent to the plate.
Freshman Christine Lindberg added her second homerun of the season in the bottom of the second, and the Gophers tacked on three more runs for a 15-0 win.
Lindberg’s homerun was the team’s 27th of the season, tying a school record set last year.
Senior shortstop Shannon Beeler added three hits and three RBIs.
“We’re explosive,” Beeler said. “Our one through nine hitters can all hit. It’s nice to see that we can score some runs with homeruns or singles before Big Ten [season].”
Minnesota was equally successful at shutting out Mankato (5-12). Senior Steph Klaviter went the distance, giving up just four hits while striking out nine. She is now 8-5 this season.
Mankato made the second game a contest, holding the Gophers to three runs and nine hits.
But as good teams usually do, Minnesota’s pitching staff stepped it up.
Freshman Heather Brown continued her dominance on the mound. The Farmington, N.M., native threw 44 of 58 pitches for strikes shutting out Mankato for four innings, allowing only two hits and striking out 11. In her last two appearances, Brown has struck out 26 batters in 11 innings.
Junior Michelle Harrison relieved Brown in the fifth inning and threw three shutout innings, giving up three hits.
The Gophers got a quick run in the first inning on a bunt hit by Midthun, who then stole second. Tammi Hays singled, and after Amy Hafemeyer popped out, Beeler hit a single to score Midthun.
Minnesota got another run in the third on a Beeler RBI groundout, and a third run in the fifth on Beeler’s RBI double.
“She’s tremendous,” Gophers co-coach Julie Standering said, referring to Beeler. “She’s the complete player, just an exceptional athlete in every aspect of the game.”
Hays went three for four with two runs for Minnesota.
Down 3-0, Mankato posed a threat of coming back in the top of the sixth. With one out, Harrison gave up back-to-back hits and a sacrifice bunt. But she got Stephanie Swingen to fly out to shallow left field and then struck out Marissa Lee to end the inning.
This series is just what the Gophers needed, not just because they were swept by South Florida last weekend, but because they travel to Purdue this weekend to open their Big Ten season.
“We need to keep our defense consistent and be aggressive at the plate,” Bernstein said. “But I like where we are, and I think we’ll peak at the right time.”