Strategy pays off as U bullpen comes up big

by Mark Heller

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Although the Minnesota softball team wasn’t necessarily planning on or hoping to face Michigan twice in three games for the conference championship, such a fate was cast upon the Gophers on Saturday.
In Big Ten softball, that’s the price you pay for winning.
Michigan usually requires its opposition to pitch a near-perfect game and hope the Wolverines make some mistakes just to be within reach by game’s end.
And that is exactly what Minnesota’s pitching did.
In the first meeting on Saturday, Steph Klaviter, who pitched a complete game to win the tournament opener against Penn State on Friday, single-handedly kept Minnesota within one run at all times. She forced Michigan — a team that blew away all other teams in almost every Big Ten offensive category — to beat the ball on the ground and let the defense take care of the rest.
“I don’t think I was throwing as hard as I did (Friday),” Klaviter said. “My drop ball was really working and I was hitting my spots in and out. We were able to eliminate the rally from Michigan, and that’s what got us ahead.”
Klaviter started the championship game against Michigan, but it quickly became apparent the Wolverines had finally caught up with her.
After three hits and two runs in one-third of an inning, Bernstein had seen enough and brought in junior Michelle Harrison, who transferred this year from Fullerton College.
“All the pitchers on the staff knew that we were going to go with Steph as long as she could go,” Gophers co-coach Lisa Bernstein said. “She came in and was hanging some pitches, and they hit them pretty deep and pretty hard.
“Anything in the world that could offset the hard stuff was the slow junk that (Harrison) was throwing. She came in and kept us in the ballgame.”
Harrison had many Minnesota fans biting their fingernails — to put it mildly — as she constantly had runners on base around her.
“We did not adjust at all to Harrison,” Wolverines’ coach Carol Hutchins said. “She did an excellent job when she came in. I thought Lisa did a great job in maneuvering her pitchers. The bottom line was that we had more hits, but we did not get more runs.”
Harrison was able to keep Michigan off the scoreboard and give her struggling offense at least a chance to come back.
Which they finally did in the top of the sixth and seventh innings, scoring three runs.
Outside of Beeler, Minnesota failed to produce offensively. But it was not a matter of how much, but when, that saved the Gophers’ weekend. And with the pitching they received from Klaviter and Harrison, they didn’t need to score many runs anyway.
Pitching carried Minnesota this weekend and most of the season. The versatility of hard-throwing pitchers like Klaviter and freshman Heather Brown, and an off-speed finesse pitcher like Harrison gave the Gophers more options against the Michigan hitters, and gave the Wolverines fits.
“This pitching staff is a complete staff,” Bernstein said. “And they don’t care who does what just as long as we walk out with a ‘W.'”
Minnesota walked out with three W’s, and its first Big Ten championship.