Minnesota won’t have to fight cold weather with tourney at Metrodome

With snow in the forecast, the Gophers will be nice and toasty inside.

Mark Heise

Last season, the Minnesota women’s softball team struggled through the cold weather in its second tournament of the year, facing 30-degree temperatures in Oklahoma.

The Gophers won’t have to worry about temperatures this time around.

Minnesota will instead enjoy playing within the friendly confines of the Metrodome this weekend, playing five games in “beautiful 72-degree weather,” as coach Lisa Bernstein called it, from Thursday through Sunday.

The Gophers will play back-to-back games Thursday against Western Illinois and Tennessee Tech, with the first game starting at 5:30 p.m., then will host Northern Iowa at the same time on Friday.

Minnesota will finish out the week with a pair of 11 a.m. starts, facing Drake on Saturday and Arkansas on Sunday.

“There’s good ball clubs here,” Bernstein said. “Tennessee Tech was in a Regional Final last year. There’s a lot of good competition this week.”

Bernstein said her team has done a good job so far when it comes to having quality at-bats, but for the weekend, she said one goal was to bring home runners in scoring position, something the Gophers struggled with last week.

But senior outfielder Casey Wheeler said overall, last weekend was a solid one for Minnesota.

“We definitely could have done better, but all in all, I thought it was a good weekend for us,” she said. “Our freshmen came in and took care of business, and I think that sets the bar even higher for us.”

An added strength to the quality play of the freshmen was solid pitching from Minnesota’s staff, which will likely only get stronger as the year goes on.

Junior pitcher Briana Hassett will be looking to improve on a strong start to the season, after posting an ERA of 2.0 over three starts last week.

Katie Dalen, another junior, complimented those numbers despite a tight strike zone, and said that the emphasis for this weekend will be getting ahead of hitters.

“We had more walks than we wanted last weekend,” she said. “We need to improve on finding the umpire’s strike zone early in the game. We need to get ahead early.”

Inductees

Minnesota will induct two new members into its softball Hall of Fame this weekend, as former pitcher and current pitching coach Piper Martin and former second baseman Laura Peters.

Both players received All-Big Ten honors in their careers, and the Gophers will honor them once again with an on-field ceremony Friday night before the game against Northern Iowa.

Peters graduated in 1998, finishing with 157 runs scored to rank fifth on Minnesota’s all-time list.

Martin struck out 1,122 hitters during her career, the fourth most by any Big Ten pitcher and 23rd-most in NCAA history.