Minnesota trying to maitain success on the road

As Minneapolis is drilled by snow for the second straight weekend, the Minnesota womenâÄôs softball team is again escaping to sunnier and skies and warmer weather. A week ago, the Gophers snuck down to Corpus Christi, Texas for the Islander Invitational. Today, they get underway at the DeMarini Invitational in Fullerton, Calif. with games against Nevada and 5th-ranked Stanford. The tournament runs through Sunday, with games against UC-Riverside and Cal State-Fullerton slated for Saturday and a final game Sunday against Oregon State. âÄúThis weekendâÄôs tournament is the toughest one weâÄôve faced in probably a couple years,âÄù co-head coach Lisa Bernstein said, âÄúwith phenomenal teams out in California, teams that have been in the College World Series in the past and teams that have been chock full of All-Americans in the past.âÄù Bernstein expects her pitchers to have to be on the lookout for clutch hitters âÄì hitters like StanfordâÄôs Alissa Haber who went 9-for-12 and drove in five runs a week ago at the Stanford Invitational . In MinnesotaâÄôs first three tournaments, starting duties have been shared by senior Briana Hassett and freshman Alissa Koch, though that may not reflect a season-long trend. Hassett is the GophersâÄô ace, currently sporting a 1.34 ERA and having notched 121 strikeouts in just 80.1 innings of work. Her eight wins are tied for tops in the Big Ten. Koch, meanwhile, is clearly still adjusting to collegiate softball. SheâÄôs started six games, holds a 6.51 ERA and is 0-5. Still, how the pair will be used throughout the season and even this weekend is hard to predict, Bernstein said. Factors like pitch count and weather dictate that the decision about the starting pitcher is almost always made within hours of game time. âÄúYou really canâÄôt look too far ahead,âÄù Bernstein said. âÄúAll we can do is look to this weekend and make our decision the night before. But our goal right now is to keep them both healthy, to keep them both ready, to keep them both getting better and better every day in practice and then when we take the field, put the kid out there that we think we can win behind.âÄù And behind Hassett and Koch, MinnesotaâÄôs defense has steadily improved from week-to-week. Apart from a three-error performance in their only loss last weekend to Pittsburgh, the Gophers committed just one error in the other four games . Bernstein said sheâÄôs been pleased with the teamâÄôs progress on defense, but is most concerned when one error leads to another in the same inning. âÄúWeâÄôre working on some strategies to regroup before the second error happens,âÄù she said. âÄúItâÄôll be a good test for us this weekend to see how we can come together [after an error] and get cohesive and breathe a little bit before we put the ball back in the pitcherâÄôs hand.âÄù