Gophers hoping canceled tourney doesn’t kill streak

Last week’s tournament cancellation for the Minnesota softball team was like an all-star break for a streaking Major League Baseball team: disappointing.

With 10 consecutive wins, the Gophers seemed to hit their stride when rainy Georgia weather cost them a five-game tournament.

“It’s always disappointing to go that far and just sit in a hotel,” junior pitcher Briana Hassett said.

And now, following a week-long break from games, Minnesota will attempt to keep its hot streak alive, heading to Louisville for a five-game tournament against Michigan, Miami of Ohio and Louisville. Pool-play starts Friday at noon.

The Gophers have made the most of their weekend off, coach Lisa Bernstein said, and she mentioned she hoped it would help them in the long run.

“We got a lot of other good things done,” she said. “One of our goals is taking care of academics and we certainly had time for that, and we also had a chance for some team bonding, along with a little rest.”

Minnesota also managed to get an extra day of practice in, holding practice on Monday, which is usually a day off.

“The pitchers got their pitch counts up this week, offensively we’ve been working on hitting the ball to all fields, we’ve put extra time in on defense,” Bernstein said. “The break, in a weird way, has allowed us to refocus on some areas where the kids might need some work.”

That may benefit the weekend, as the Gophers prepare to face their first Big Ten opponent in Michigan in a rare meeting during nonconference play.

Minnesota starts the tournament against the Wolverines, with an opportunity to face them again on Sunday, depending on how each team does.

The Gophers split games with Michigan last season, winning a surprising 2-0 decision on Hassett’s two-hit shutout before losing 2-4 the next day.

The Wolverines are a solid team once again this year, posting a 17-2 record so far this season while allowing no more than two runs in any contest.

Michigan’s two pitchers combine for a 0.57 ERA, while six of the nine batters in the Wolverines’ starting lineup hold a batting average above .270.

But the Gophers’ pitching staff of Hassett and junior Katie Dalen has been stingy of late as well, offering up just one earned run over the last nine games.

And between junior third baseman Colleen Conway’s .441 average and four other Gophers hitting above the .295 mark, Minnesota matches Michigan’s team batting average at .275 this year.

The Gophers have shown they have the talent to compete this year. The only question now is, will the unwelcome break affect them?

“I don’t think so,” junior catcher Shannon Stemper said. “Our bodies are well rested and we got some extra practice in. I have complete confidence in this team right now. We’re excited to play, and with that mental approach, something like last weekend shouldn’t bother us too much.”