On Tuesday, the 23rd-ranked Gophers softball team won game two of a doubleheader thanks to some questionable strategy from Iowa State’s coach.
On Wednesday, some questionable strategy of their own might have prevented the Gophers (42-17, 11-9 in the Big Ten) from sweeping a crucial doubleheader with Wisconsin at the Bierman Softball Complex.
With Minnesota ahead 6-0 in the top of the seventh inning of game one, coach Lisa Bernstein-O’Brien had third baseman Amber Hegland come in to throw one pitch, making her the only player in Gophers history to play every position on the field.
Hegland threw a high and inside pitch for a ball, then returned to third base with her accomplishment completed.
However, Wisconsin coach Karen Gallagher said she thought it was slap in the face, no matter what kind of personal goal Hegland achieved. In addition, she said it provided some much-needed motivation for her team.
“It definitely fired our players up,” she said.
Wisconsin (19-28-1, 8-13) jumped on Gophers pitcher Wendy Logue immediately in game two, scoring two runs off four singles and knocking Logue out of the game with two out in the first. Those would be the only runs in the 2-0 blanking.
Steph Klaviter, who pitched six innings of four-hit ball in the 6-0 game one win, relieved Logue and shut down the Badgers the rest of the way, giving up only two hits.
But the damage was already done. Gallagher was asked if it would have made a difference if the Hegland situation was explained to her prior to it happening.
“I think if they had, it still wouldn’t have mattered,” she said. “I probably wouldn’t have told my players anyway, because it fired us up and we needed that.”
Hegland, meanwhile, was happy to have accomplished the feat, but said it might have added fuel to Wisconsin’s fire.
“It definitely could’ve fired them up,” she said. “I honestly would’ve rather not done it.”
Hegland added that, despite the two early runs, Minnesota did not hit the ball hard. In fact, they had only two runners advance past first base, and one of those, catcher Erin Brophy, was picked off of second.
Bernstein-O’Brien, meanwhile, denied the Hegland-hoopla was meant to rub it in.
“That was something for Amber for four years of hard work,” she said. “It had nothing to do with Wisconsin. (Gallagher) can say whatever she wants to say.”
Bernstein-O’Brien was clearly unhappy with the lack of hitting her squad presented, and credited the win to Wisconsin hurler Ashley Fauser for “throwing something that we weren’t able to hit.”
In addition, she pointed out that the four Badger hits in the decisive first inning were flares.
“They hit balls that had eyes, and balls that landed on the line,” Bernstein-O’Brien said. “And they scored those runs with two out.”
Taking advantage of those fortunate hits was exactly what the Badgers needed to do, because when Klaviter came in they looked hapless again.
Klaviter (16-9) allowed only one hitter past second base, as she struck out four. She has not allowed an earned run in 17 1/3 innings.
In game one, the Gophers jumped on Badgers pitcher Jennifer Cummings early in the first, as the first five batters all got hits. They would go on to score five runs in the inning with a two-run single by Shannon Beeler and a two-run triple by Hegland.
While those five early runs provided a nice cushion, Bernstein-O’Brien said her team put the cruise control on the rest of the way.
“We got those runs early in game one, and sat back for 13 innings,” she said. “You can’t do that in the Big Ten.”
The split with Wisconsin puts some incredible pressure on Minnesota when they host a three-game series with Michigan State (30-17, 11-10) this weekend.
Both teams are battling for fourth place in the conference, and the winner of the series will advance to the Big Ten Tournament May 8-10, in Ann Arbor, Mich.