Softball squares off with Creighton

Mark Heller

As the Minnesota softball team filtered out of the Bierman athletic building for its flight to Los Angeles, sophomore Michelle Bennett and freshman Jordanne Nygren were asked to tell everything they know about Creighton, the Gophers first opponent in the NCAA regional championships.
“Absolutely nothing,” was their shared reply.
So unlike the Big Ten tournament, Minnesota (46-18) has very little idea what to expect from Creighton and the rest of the teams in Region 1.
The Gophers open the NCAA tournament against the Bluejays today at 5 p.m. central time.
Creighton (31-26) won the Missouri Valley conference championship this year for the first time and earned its sixth trip to regionals in school history, the first since 1990.
“When you haven’t been to regionals and NCAA play in a while, obviously your goal is to get there,” Bluejays coach Brent Vigness said. “We’ve accomplished that, and I think we need to set some new goals. We want to do well. When your program is rebuilding, you have to take small steps at a time. We hope we can take another step and find a way to win a game.”
The Gophers are a more established program than Creighton, but they, too, have some improvements to make of their own if they hope to advance.
Minnesota found itself behind in the count a lot during the Big Ten tournament. Although Michigan has an outstanding pitching staff, the Gophers were hesitant to swing early in their at-bats.
“We were too selective at the plate,” Bennett said. “We would sit there and wait for the perfect pitch, and at this time of the season, you’re not going to see perfect pitches anymore.”
Nygren, on the other hand, was bitten by the close-but-not-quite syndrome that makes hitting a round ball with a round bat so difficult.
“I just missed them,” she said. “I barely got under the ball, and (pop- outs) are what will happen.
Creighton probably won’t bring the same caliber of pitching as the Wolverines, but any team that has made it this far in the season has quality pitching. The Bluejays have a decent 2.51 team ERA.
And because Creighton has good pitching, Minnesota knows it will have to come out swinging to score some runs.
“(Co-coach Lisa Bernstein) has been talking about swinging a lot more at the first three pitches,” Bennett said. “One of the first three pitches are almost always going to be hittable, and we need to get the bat off our shoulder early.”
But Bernstein has also stressed hitting pitches based on where they’re thrown, something she saw a lack of last weekend.
“We need to work on going with pitches,” Bernstein said. “We saw a lot of pitches on the outside corner, and we need to take those to the right side.”
On the Creighton side, Vigness spent a lot of time talking about the need to make adjustments during the game and how great it is to be playing this late in the season after a nine-year absence.
Both schools share a common denominator as conference champions, but the difference in attitude between these two programs is striking: Minnesota wants to be more aggressive at the plate this weekend, and Creighton is just happy to be playing.
“I feel much better that we have so many upperclassmen on the team,” Vigness said. “And hopefully we won’t succumb or be bothered by the pressure of not being in regionals for a while.”