Michigan keeps grip on another title

Jeff Sherry

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A week earlier Michigan’s softball team defended its Big Ten regular season title from Minnesota, leaving the Gophers upset over their second-place finish.
On Saturday, Michigan defended its Big Ten tournament title from the Gophers — once again leaving Minnesota as the bridesmaid rather than the bride.
But coming in second didn’t hurt so bad this time. The Gophers won two of four games over the weekend, and made enough of an impression nationally to earn an NCAA regional tournament berth. So while it was disappointing Saturday to be the bridesmaid, Minnesota was elated Sunday when it learned it still got to go to the big dance.
“That was the past and this is the future,” Gophers senior Jenny Lopez said. “I am just so excited. This is something that is well-deserved, and we worked hard, hard, hard for it. It’s a dream come true.”
Minnesota earned its second-place finish with a pair of impressive wins and heartbreaking losses. It opened the tournament Friday by beating Iowa, 8-6, then lost a heartbreaker to Michigan, 3-2. The Gophers then fought off elimination Saturday with a 3-0 shutout of Iowa before losing again to Michigan, 6-4.
Even before it received the tournament bid, Minnesota left the weekend with mixed emotions. The Gophers rediscovered some of their resilience and offensive fire that seemed to be missing over the last couple weeks, and it showed almost immediately Friday.
Left fielder Amber Hegland set the tone for the weekend by sending a home run over the 220-foot center field fence in the first inning against Iowa. The Gophers shook off their previous struggles against Hawkeyes pitcher Deb Bilbao, and chased her from the game in the sixth inning.
In Saturday’s defeat of Iowa, freshman pitcher Steph Klaviter spread out seven hits for a complete-game shutout.
“Coming out and beating Iowa twice — they’re ranked above us regionally, and they’re competitive with us every time — that was very, very satisfying,” Gophers coach Lisa Bernstein said.
Then there was Michigan. The Wolverines proved over the weekend that they are to the Gophers what the Roadrunner is to Wile E. Coyote. Minnesota got close to Michigan in both games, only to see its nemesis zip away unharmed in the end.
The Gophers got to Michigan starter Kelly Holmes for two runs in the third inning Friday and held a 2-1 lead when the Wolverines brought in Big Ten Player of the Year Sara Griffin. Minnesota didn’t manage another run, and Michigan catcher Deb Smith won the game on a two-run homer in the sixth inning.
The Gophers got off to a rough start in Saturday’s game when outfielders Rachel Nelson and Steph Midthun each lost pop flies in the wind and sun. Michigan turned those mistakes into runs and took an early 5-1 lead. Minnesota finally got to Griffin for three runs in the fifth inning but never managed to tie the game.
By chasing Griffin and Balbao from their starts, the Gophers proved to themselves that they can once again hit against top pitchers. Despite the losses, Minnesota felt confident when they left Ann Arbor.
“We knew that we could beat Michigan, and I think we proved to ourselves this weekend that we could,” Klaviter said. “We played two really tough games against them. It seemed like everything started coming together this weekend. We’re looking forward to getting a bid and going on next weekend and taking one more step up. We’re ready.”

FIRST GAME — FRIDAY

Iowa 021 111 0 – 6 13 4
Minnesota 201 041 X – 8 8 1
Bilbao, Castellon and Nance; Klaviter, Johnson and Bartholmey, Sbrocco. W – Johnson (12-7). L – Bilbao (20-9). 2B – Iowa, Hebert; Min, Halvorson, Logue, Peters, Sbrocco. HR – Hegland. T-2:12.

SECOND GAME — FRIDAY

Michigan 010 002 0 – 3 8 2
Minnesota 002 000 0 – 2 8 1
Holmes, Griffin and Smith; Logue, Johnson, Klaviter and Bartholmey. W – Griffin (31-5). L – Johnson (12-8). 2B – Mich, Smith; Min, Halvorson. HR – Smith. T-2:01. A-552.

THIRD GAME — SATURDAY

Iowa 000 000 0 – 0 7 0
Minnesota 201 000 X – 3 5 0
Castellon, McMahon and Nance, Macias; Klaviter and Bartholmey. W – Klaviter (25-3). L – Castellon (11-2). 2B – Sbrocco. T-1:29.

FOURTH GAME — SATURDAY

Minnesota 001 030 0 – 4 7 0
Michigan 131 001 X – 6 14 5
Klaviter, Logue and Bartholmey; Griffin, Holmes and Smith. W – Griffin (32-5). L – Klaviter (24-4). 2B – Conrad, Davie, Griffin, Smith, Tate. T-2:24. A-657.

GOPHERS STATISTICS
AB R H BI
Nelson 14 2 2 0
Peters 12 4 6 0
Beeler 12 3 8 0
Hegland 12 3 3 6
Sbrocco 14 2 3 3
Logue 10 2 1 1
Halvorson 11 0 4 3
Bartholmey 9 0 1 1
Midthun 9 1 0 0
Fox 3 0 0 0
Bauer 2 0 0 0