Softball coach: U can get to World Series

Michael Dougherty

After locking up the fourth and final bid for the Big Ten softball tournament with a three-game sweep of Michigan State over the weekend, the 23rd-ranked Gophers have set their goals for the postseason high.
Minnesota (45-17, 14-9 in the Big Ten) travels to Ann Arbor, Mich., for a Friday afternoon game with second-ranked Michigan.
The Wolverines (47-4, 22-1) have won the Big Ten tournament all three years it has been held, but Gophers head coach Lisa Bernstein-O’Brien says her team will end Michigan’s run.
“We need to go in there and have a good weekend,” she said. “Then we need to have a good regional the next weekend, and we’ll be playing in the World Series. This team is going to get there.”
It’s easy to understand why the coach is confident, considering the play she is getting out of her top hitter and pitcher.
Junior hurler Steph Klaviter took home Big Ten Pitcher of the Week honors, after she went 4-0 last week with a 0.40 ERA. She struck out 11 and gave up just two earned runs in wins over Iowa State, Wisconsin, and Michigan State (2).
Shortstop Shannon Beeler, who won Big Ten Player of the Week honors last week, was 6-for-12 at the plate, with her team record tying 11th home run and three RBIs.
Handshake-gate continues
Michigan State coach Jacquie Joseph, who refused to allow her players to shake hands with the Gophers after the final game on Sunday, offered an explanation Monday.
Joseph responded “absolutely not” when asked if she would answer some questions after Sunday’s game, but was more talkative the day after.
The coach declined to comment when asked about her dissatisfaction with the umpiring crew. However, she did try to explain her team’s hasty handshake departure.
“That was solely because we had to catch a flight,” Joseph said. “It would have been nice if I had had a opportunity to communicate that in advance, but I was not given that opportunity.”
But Gophers third baseman Amber Hegland said she doesn’t buy that excuse.
“It wouldn’t have taken that much time to shake hands,” she said. “Even if they would have said, `Can we get our stuff together?’ Then as they’re leaving shake hands as they walked out. They could have at least explained it a little.”
However, Hegland said she was surprised by Joseph’s behavior, which included several confrontations with umpires and Gophers associate coach Julie Standering.
“That was odd to me,” Hegland said, “because in the four years we’ve played against them, she’s been talkative to us, and she’s been a nice lady who has always kept her composure and poise and not gone off like that. It was out of character for her.”
Joseph, meanwhile, said her players were literally boarding their 6 p.m. flight with their spikes still on.
“I’m sorry that it appeared that we were being unsportsmanlike,” she said. “But it was not that at all, and we were not given an opportunity to explain ourselves.”
If you steal, I’m stealing
Center fielder Steph Midthun and second baseman Laura Peters continued their race for the Gophers single-season stolen base record.
Midthun entered the weekend with 29 and Peters had 28, and both players deny they are competing for the record.
But in the bottom of the third inning in game three, Peters stole second to tie Midthun.
Then, after Midthun singled to left moving Peters to third, Midthun took off on the first pitch and temporarily reclaimed the title.
Dance like Carlton Fisk
Most people have seen Carlton Fisk’s fair ball-pleading dance in game six of the 1975 World Series, and the Gophers could have used Pudge’s dance on Sunday.
In the bottom of the 11th inning with the score tied 1-1, Beeler came to the plate with one thing in mind — a game-ending homer.
After taking a ball low and outside, Spartans pitcher Jacqueline Hall hung a change-up that Beeler crushed. But the ball kept tailing, and finally went out about three feet foul.
Beeler was asked if she was trying to will the ball to stay fair a la Fisk.
“I wasn’t really thinking about it,” she said. “I was just like, Darn I wish it was fair.'”
Hall, however, gave Beeler another chance when she hung the same pitch, and Beeler hit it out of the field, almost clearing a 40-foot tall tree behind the fence.
Great four cast
Beeler, Peters, Hegland and Midthun took the top four spots, respectively, in the Big Ten in total hits. Beeler had 80, Peters 79, Hegland 77 and Midthun 75.
Beeler led or tied for the Big Ten lead in hits, home runs (11), doubles (19) and triples (4). She was fourth in hitting with a .419 average. Hegland was second at .425.
Peters was first in runs scored with 53, and Beeler was second with 52.