oftball locks up tourney berth

by Michael Dougherty

Home run heroics, because they’re rare, are things players and fans keep stored in their memories for years. At the Bierman Softball Complex this weekend, the Gophers spoiled their fans with three separate long-ball mementos in a sweep against Michigan State.
Shannon Beeler, the Gophers’ career home run leader, provided the first, with an 11th inning shot that cleared the left field fence by at least 20 feet.
Her homer ended a 1-1 tie in the conclusion of game one which had been pushed back to Sunday thanks to a driving rainstorm on Saturday.
With the count 1-0, Beeler rocked a change-up from Spartan Jacqueline Hall, sending it out of the park, but three feet foul.
Hall wiped the sweat from her brow and delivered another hanging change-up in the exact same spot, resulting in Beeler’s bash.
“I was expecting the change-up on that second pitch, and it was nice and fat,” Beeler said.
Beeler received some extra motivation, thanks to two great defensive plays by catcher Erin Brophy in the top of the 11th.
The Spartans’ Tiffany Yager reached base on a throwing error by second baseman Laura Peters, but some good hustle by Brophy stopped the ball from going into the dugout and kept the runner at first.
Yager then tried to steal second, but Brophy threw a perfect strike to Beeler, ending the inning.
Brophy’s plays and Beeler’s homer invigorated the Gophers (45-17, 14-9 in the Big Ten), who needed to win two games from Michigan State to qualify for next weekend’s Big Ten tournament in Ann Arbor, Mich.
While Beeler was stealing the limelight, Gophers pitcher Steph Klaviter was quietly dominating the Spartans (34-20, 11-13).
The junior from New Ulm, Minn., had a 17 1/3 inning scoreless streak snapped in the top of the first in game one when she gave up a lead-off triple and a bloop single. But Klaviter settled down and pitched all 11 innings of the 2-1 win.
“I’m coming into my own at the end of the season,” she said. “We needed to step it up and we had a lot of things that we wanted to make happen, so I just wanted to play my best.”
Gophers head coach Lisa Bernstein-O’Brien said Klaviter is throwing her best right now, and added that the rest of the staff is also peaking at the right time.
The key to Klaviter’s success was her ability to shut down the Spartans’ top hitter, Stacey Phillips, who was hitting .354 with nine homers and 47 RBIs.
Klaviter and Phillips have become close friends while playing summer ball in the past, and Klaviter said she knew what it takes to shut her down.
“We know she’s a free swinger, so we didn’t give her any strikes,” Klaviter said.
Phillips went 3-for-12 from the plate, and was held without and RBI. Klaviter said that it was tough facing her friend.
“I don’t look at her,” she said. “I really didn’t look at her once the whole weekend. She’s a good player, and when she makes contact, she really hits the ball.”
Klaviter got the nod again in game two on Sunday, and continued her mastery of the Spartans. However, the Gophers were equally ineffective at the plate until the fifth inning.
That’s when Peters put her stamp on the game with her first career home run.
The senior slap-hitter came to the plate with Erin Mooney on second and Dana Ballard on first.
With the outfield drawn in to protect the bloop single, Peters lined a shot over the right fielder’s head and raced all the way around, barely beating out the tag at the plate, giving Minnesota a 3-0 lead.
But in the top of the seventh, the Spartans finally got to Klaviter. They had loaded the bases with a single, a walk and a hit batter when Spartans second baseman Carrie Fry got an infield single to push across the first run.
Wendy Logue relieved Klaviter (18-9) and got Phillips to pop out to Ballard at first base, earning her third save of the season.
That victory clinched the spot in the tournament for the Gophers.
“I’m very proud of this club,” Bernstein-O’Brien said. “Michigan State was ahead of us in the regional standings, and we needed to come in and smack them around three times.”
Ballard provided the third homer. The sophomore, whose parents made the trip from Oak Park, Ill., smacked a two-run shot over the left field wall to tie the game, minutes after her parents had left to return home.
Minnesota dug a hole early, when Beeler made three errors in the top of the first, which led to two Spartan runs.
But the Gophers settled down with a seven-run third inning highlighted by Ballard’s second homer of the year.
Logue gave up six hits over three innings, as well as the two unearned runs. Freshman Rayny Camacho relieved her in the fourth and went the rest of the way of the 7-2 win, improving her record to 8-1.
“Our entire pitching staff did a great job,” Bernstein-O’Brien said. “Wendy threw well, and if we pick up those three balls in the first we’ve got three ground ball outs. And Rayny Camacho came in and did an excellent job.”
Gophers associate head coach Julie Standering was overjoyed with the sweep, especially the Beeler homer.
“It was awesome, one foul and then the homer — she’s an enforcer,” Standering said. “I don’t know why people don’t intentionally walk her, I really don’t. She can win a ball game with one swing, and that’s what happened.”
The Gophers leave for Michigan on Thursday, and face the No. 2-ranked Wolverines at 2:30 on Friday in the conference tourney.