Softball takes shot at Big Tens,

Mark Heller

The postseason will officially begin for the Minnesota softball team just after noon today.
Although the Big Ten championships is a double elimination tournament, a trip to the consolation round would be no consolation for the Gophers.
Boasting three of the best players ever to put on Minnesota uniforms — Steph Klaviter, Shannon Beeler and Steph Midthun — the Gophers believe they can win it all this weekend in Ann Arbor, Mich. And with those three graduating at the end of the season, if not now, when?
A conference championship would be a huge first step in Minnesota’s three-step, postseason goal: Big Ten championships, NCAA Regionals and, finally, the College World Series.

Why the Gophers will win
Steph Klaviter. She’s the ace of a pitching staff that finished second in the conference with a 1.71 ERA. She is also coming off Big Ten pitcher of the week honors last week, when she went 2-1 with one save and a 1.69 ERA.
Klaviter led the Big Ten in wins with 11, shutouts with six and finished second with a 1.38 ERA.
“Steph needs to be on. She is the anchor of our pitching staff,” Gophers co-coach Lisa Bernstein said.
Hitters one through five. The list includes two All-Americans (Beeler and Midthun), a soon-to-be All-American (freshman Jordanne Nygren), Minnesota’s leading hitter in conference play (Angel Braden at .329) and a future replacement for Midthun (freshman Tammi Hays).
All told, the quintet has combined to hit .301 with 63 runs, seven home runs and 49 RBIs in conference games.
“We need to work to score runners when they get on base,” Midthun said, “and continue to be aggressive throughout our entire lineup.”

Why the Gophers won’t win
Intensity. At times this season, Minnesota has been too relaxed on the field. That was a big factor in only getting two-game splits with Iowa State and Iowa.
“The key for us is to play seven innings as hard as we can and never lose focus,” junior Dana Ballard said. “It’s the first team that makes the first mistake. That’s how teams are losing and that’s what’s going to happen in the Big Ten tournament.”
The mental let-downs often lead to sloppy play, something the Gophers can’t expect to get away with in the postseason.
“We have three-up and three-down innings when we’re at the plate,” said junior pitcher Michelle Harrison, who will make her first Big Ten postseason appearance this weekend along with freshman pitcher Heather Brown. “We lose concentration on the field and start booting the ball around on defense.
“More than anything, it’s a lack of feeling that you know you’re going to win.”
Michigan. The Wolverines lost All-American pitcher and Gophers nemesis Sara Griffin to graduation, but it’s hard to tell. With the exception of one subpar game against Iowa, the Wolverines (48-9-1 overall, 20-3 in the Big Ten) rolled to their second consecutive conference championship.
Minnesota lost twice to Michigan in last year’s tournament, eliminating them from the tournament. The Gophers know that if they’re going to win the Big Ten, they’re probably going to have to go through Michigan.
“They deserve the No. 1 seed,” Bernstein said. “They’ve been the most consistent team the entire season, and they have great players.”