U looks for a different streaks rerun

Michael Rand

A season of streaks for the Gophers softball team continued this weekend when Michigan completed a three-game sweep of Minnesota.
The Gophers dropped their first three Big Ten games before rattling off five consecutive wins. The team’s current stretch of four losses in five games dropped it to 6-7 in the conference. With 10 games left in regular season play, the Gophers are tied for sixth place in the Big Ten.
Because only the top four teams qualify for the conference tournament, Minnesota — a team considered a contender for the league title at the start of the season — is at a critical junction. Iowa (12-0), Michigan State (13-2) and Michigan (10-4) have clearly established themselves as front-runners.
The middle of the pack contains four teams — Purdue, Indiana, Minnesota and Northwestern — fighting for the final spot in the tourney. That means the Gophers need to start another streak in the opposite direction of the one they’re headed in if their post-season aspirations are going to be realized.
“There’s no secret to what we have to do. The kids know that,” Coach Lisa Bernstein-O’Brien said. “Just wanting it isn’t going to get it done. We have to go out and play.”
The key to all three of Minnesota’s Big Ten streaks has been hitting. In the team’s losses, players failed to produce key hits. During the five-game conference winning streak, the Gophers thrived in the clutch.
The hitting regression this weekend against the Wolverines was even more troubling because players and coaches thought the team’s hitting problems were behind them.
“We had a lot of older kids that didn’t come through like they wanted to,” Bernstein-O’Brien said. “They’re a little frustrated right now.”
That puts Bernstein-O’Brien in a delicate position. She knows the situation in the Big Ten is urgent, but the last thing she wants is for her team to panic. For now, she’s emphasizing to her players that they still control their own fate.
“I don’t want anyone stressing or panicking,” Bernstein-O’Brien said. “This is a good ball club. They have the potential to win every game. If we win every game, we’ll make the Big Ten tournament no problem.”
Earning the award
Wolverines pitcher Kelly Holmes seemingly threw enough innings during the course of last week to earn Big Ten Pitcher of the Year honors. But since the season is only at the mid-point, she’ll have to settle for the Pitcher of the Week award.
Holmes allowed just one earned run in 40 innings for the week as Michigan posted a 6-1 record (5-0 in the conference). Included in that run were three consecutive complete game wins against Minnesota during the weekend.
“Kelly Holmes did a good job against us,” Bernstein-O’Brien said. “She mixed the ball up well and kept us off-balance.”
Extra Innings
ù Gophers center fielder Rachel Nelson is tied for the Big Ten lead in stolen bases (7) and runs scored (15), while pitcher Jennifer Johnson leads the conference in strikeouts per seven innings (6.3).
ù Johnson, who already owns the Gophers career record for strikeouts, reached another milestone this weekend by whiffing batter No. 500.
ù The Gophers are now 0-6 in the Big Ten against Michigan schools and 6-1 against squads outside the Wolverine state.