Showdown with Wildcats next for U

by Michael Dougherty

Winners of 17 of their last 18 games and off to a 31-8 start, the 18th-ranked Gophers softball team faces a tough schedule over the next week.
On Wednesday, Northwestern comes to town for a doubleheader at the Bierman Softball Complex. The Wildcats are tied with Minnesota for second in the Big Ten with a 5-1 conference record, and have a 22-9 record overall.
Northwestern is fresh off a three-game sweep of Indiana, highlighted by a pair of honorable performances. Wildcats first baseman Jill Nesbitt was named Big Ten Player of the Week and Jenni Beseres, a junior from Golden Valley, Minn., was named Big Ten Pitcher of the Week.
After the double-dip with the Wildcats, the Gophers turn their attention to a three-game weekend series with the No. 2 team in the nation, Michigan. The Wolverines are 8-0 in conference play with a 29-3 overall record — the best start in the team’s 21-year history.
Meanwhile, the Gophers are coming off a three-game sweep of Purdue, highlighted by a come-from-behind 3-2 win in Sunday’s finale.
Gophers senior pitcher Wendy Logue worked three and one-third innings in relief of Steph Klaviter to notch her 13th win of the year. After starting the year 1-2, Logue has rattled off 12 straight wins, and her 1.30 ERA is tops on the team.
At the plate, Minnesota continues to be led by shortstop Shannon Beeler and third baseman Amber Hegland. Beeler is leading the team in almost every offensive category, including average (.447), RBIs (48), and home runs (7).
As a team, the Gophers lead the Big Ten in 11 offensive categories, and their .343 average is second in the conference, behind Michigan’s .344.
While the strong pitching and hitting garner the most respect, it is the Gophers’ fielding which has quietly been holding them together. They lead the Big Ten in fielding percentage at .970, committing 38 errors in their 39 games.
Overcoming injuries
With a season-ending anterior cruciate ligament injury to third baseman Angel Braden and a milder knee injury keeping outfielder Michelle Bennett out of the Purdue series, the team has been forced to test its depth.
Fortunately for Minnesota, head coach Lisa Bernstein-O’Brien has had a couple players come through for her.
“I’ve asked some players to step-up, like Morgan Holden and Lara Severson, and they have responded,” Bernstein-O’Brien said.
Holden has benefited from a switch in the lineup, raising her average almost 20 points. She was moved into the No. 3 spot, which was vacated when Hegland was moved to the fifth spot behind Beeler to protect her in the order.
Meanwhile, Severson, who has moved into the designated hitter role, raised her average almost 60 points in the five games last week, going 4-for-10 with three RBIs.

Billy Martin is back
Assistant coach Julie Standering took a page out of the Billy Martin umpire-arguing book when the men in blue botched a call during the first game of the Purdue series.
With a runner on first, Holden appeared to make a diving play just outside the foul line, which was ruled a catch by one of the three umpires. But another umpire overruled the call, saying Holden had dropped it and that it was a fair ball.
A five-minute conference — during which the original baserunner was sent from third base to second base and then back to third base — netted runners on first and third, triggering an intriguing remark from Standering.
“There are no do-overs in softball,” she yelled at the umpiring crew.