U softball team regains winning form vs. Lions

by Mark Heller

The Gophers softball team abandoned its game when it got swept in Michigan last weekend. Minnesota found its stride this weekend a little late in the season, but maybe not too late.
The pitching and clutch hitting that had deserted the No. 25 Gophers last weekend against Michigan, migrated back north just in time to give Minnesota (31-15 overall, 4-5 in the Big Ten) two of three wins against Penn State (22-17, 5-6). The Gophers won 6-3 and 1-0 on Saturday before losing 6-3 on Sunday at the Bierman Softball Field.
“We had good pitching (Sunday) and (Saturday),” Penn State coach Robin Petrini said of Sunday’s game. “We had opportunities to make something happen on Saturday and we didn’t, and (Minnesota) was able to capitalize when they had their opportunities.”
Game one on Saturday was a pitching and defensive clinic put on by both teams. Penn State’s Jaci Kalp no-hit Minnesota for the first 4 2/3 innings until Angel Braden hit a bloop single in the fifth. Kalp gave up just four hits, one walk and one run for the Nittany Lions.
But Steph Klaviter also breezed through the Nittany Lions’ lineup, throwing strikes early in the count and getting Penn State hitters to beat balls into the ground. Klaviter allowed two balls into the outfield — one of those was a single — and threw 51 of her 71 pitches for strikes.
“I threw the ball very well today and hit my spots,” Klaviter said. “Our defense is so strong behind (the pitchers) that I want them to hit it on the ground.”
Neither team was able to generate any kind of a scoring threat, but Minnesota junior Dana Ballard decided that seven innings was enough for one game.
With one out in the bottom of the seventh, Shannon Beeler reached on an infield hit and Jordanne Nygren walked. Michelle Bennett tried to bunt both runners over, but popped out. Then Braden hit a single off of third baseman Jennifer Tripken to load the bases.
Ballard then knocked a base hit into left field to score Beeler and win the game.
“I had been on (Kalp) all day and I finally got a good piece to hit,” Ballard said. “I had popped out to center field in my previous at-bat, but I had a pretty good swing on it. This time I just wanted to make sure I kept the ball on the ground.”
The complete game two-hitter made Klaviter 11-6 on the season.
In the second game it took Minnesota one inning to triple its offensive output of the entire first game. With one out in the first inning, Tammi Hays reached on a bunt hit and stole second.
Beeler then hit a line drive to right field that bounced off of Penn State’s Karen Gulini and rolled to the wall. Hays scored and Beeler stopped at third on the error. Nygren’s single scored Beeler, and a wild pitch moved Nygren to second. She went to third on a single by Braden, and scored on another wild pitch to make it 3-0.
The Nittany Lions got a run in the second inning when Gophers starter Heather Brown hit a batter and gave up an RBI double to right. But Minnesota pushed the lead back up to 5-1 on Nygren’s RBI triple and Ballard’s RBI ground out. Penn State cut it to 5-3 on a solo home run by Tripken in the fifth, chasing Brown from the game.
But junior Michelle Harrison tossed two-plus innings of scoreless relief for her third save.
Brown struggled through 4 2/3 innings of work, giving up four hits and two earned runs, but got the win to go 10-1 on the season.
On Sunday, Penn State got off to a quick 1-0 lead in the top of the second inning. They added another run in the fifth on back-to-back singles and a Minnesota throwing error.
Kalp had the Gophers’ number again until the fifth, when Ballard led off with a double. After a sacrifice bunt by Morgan Holden, Erin Brophy chopped a ball back to the pitcher, but the throw to first was dropped by Jenny Briz, scoring Ballard and cutting the lead to 2-1.
Minnesota threatened again in the sixth, loading the bases with one out. But Ballard popped out, and Holden, who went to a full count before fouling off four pitches, flied out to left. The Nittany Lions added a run in the seventh to make it 3-1.
Klaviter (11-7) took the loss, despite giving up just two earned runs.
This weekend’s results were much better for the Gophers, who will travel to Wisconsin on Wednesday for a doubleheader.
“We just have to stay mentally tougher from the first pitch to the last pitch,” Bernstein said. “And if we can do that on a consistent basis, we’ll be in good shape.”