Iowa stares U down, sweeps: Gophers fall to 6-9 in Big Ten

by Michael Rand

Amber Hegland looked like she was storing a fistful of gravel in her mouth as she walked off the field after the sixth inning of game two of the Gophers softball team’s doubleheader against Iowa.
Minnesota had loaded the bases with no outs in the inning, just as it had done on Sunday at Michigan. The result was the same — no runs — and Hegland retreated from first base to the dugout with a scowl that would have put Robert DeNiro to shame.
The Gophers had already lost game one 4-2, and they were trailing 1-0 in game two. Hegland knew the best chance the team could ask for had come and gone. Failure to produce in the clutch, the story of Minnesota’s season in its last seven games, had added another chapter.
“That was the big chance of the game. We needed to capitalize when it was there,” said Hegland, who grounded into a fielder’s choice with the bases loaded and no outs. “You’d like to see somebody — myself — come through in that situation.”
When reminded that she hit the ball sharply, but right at the first baseman, she replied: “I still missed it, even if it was by that much. I needed to produce there.”
After pinch hitter Chantell Jernell struck out to end the game one inning later, the 1-0 loss became official. But Hegland and the rest of the team knew the sixth inning was the defining moment.
“That’s exactly where you want to be. It’s sort of like deja vu,” Gophers coach Lisa Bernstein-O’Brien said, referring to the Michigan game. “You just hope that one time someone clutches up and hits one through the infield.”
That no one did was the main reason the Gophers (31-15, 6-9 in the Big Ten) fell to 2 1/2 games back in the race for the fourth and final spot in the conference tournament with eight games to play. Indiana (9-7) swept Purdue (8-8) in a Wednesday doubleheader to move into fourth place in the Big Ten.
Minnesota entered the games against Iowa having lost four of its last five while scoring just seven runs in those contests. An intense batting practice session Tuesday had many players optimistic that their hitting woes were a thing of the past.
Although Hegland said she saw some improvement Wednesday, she also knows the team has yet to shake its funk.
“We’ll take it home tonight, think of it, recollect, and then come back fresh tomorrow,” Hegland said. “We can’t take this with us or the results are going to be the same through the rest of our games.”
The Gophers face Ohio State, a team that has been near the bottom of the Big Ten all season, in a three-game series at the Bierman Softball Complex this weekend.
The game plan until then is simple: Do a lot of hitting. The plan was scheduled to go into effect less than 12 hours after the conclusion of the Iowa games.
“We’re going to keep hitting. We’re going to hit, and hit and hit,” Bernstein-O’Brien said. “We’re hitting at 6:00 tomorrow morning; we’re hitting Friday, and we’re going to be ready to go Saturday and Sunday.”

Iowa 300 010 0 — 4 10 0
Gophers 010 100 0 — 2 4 1
Bilbao and Macias; Johnson and Bartholmey. W — Bilbao, 21-3. L — Johnson, 8-8. T — 1:50. A — 292.

Gophers 000 000 0 — 0 5 0
Iowa 000 010 x — 1 8 1
Logue, Johnson (5) and Bartholmey; McMahon and Macias. W — McMahon, 9-0. L — Logue, 10-4. T — 1:45. A — 292.

Gophers hitting statistics (2 games)
Nelson 6 0 1 0
Peters 5 0 0 0
Hegland 5 0 1 0
Beeler 5 1 3 0
Fox 5 0 0 0
Sbrocco 6 1 2 0
Bartholmey 3 0 0 1
Halvorson 4 0 0 1
Midthun 4 0 1 0
Ballard 2 0 0 0
Brophy 2 0 1 0
Jernell 1 0 0 0
Totals 48 2 9 2