U softball’s high hopes squashed by Michigan sweep

by Mark Heller

This weekend was supposed to be the Gophers softball team’s best chance to steal some wins at Michigan for the first time since 1990 and prove that the Wolverines would have some competition before all was said and done in the Big Ten.
But the old habits against Michigan became a little older.
Minnesota’s pitching problems and a shortage of clutch hits gave No. 6 Michigan a three-game sweep of the 22nd-ranked Gophers (28-13 overall, 2-4 in the Big Ten), pushing the Wolverines’ unbeaten streak to 31 games.
“We certainly had our chances this weekend,” Gophers co-coach Lisa Bernstein said. “It seemed like we were only one hit away from doing something really positive. Everybody hit the ball reasonably well, but we didn’t take advantage of all of our opportunities.”
Saturday’s doubleheader started out innocently enough for Minnesota. Both teams were quiet for the first three innings, but the Gophers took a 2-0 lead in the fourth inning on a two-run double to right by junior Dana Ballard, scoring Jordanne Nygren and Ninette Mohns.
Michigan (35-5-1, 8-0) rallied to tie the game after getting a run in the fourth and fifth innings off senior Steph Klaviter. Klaviter was relieved in favor of junior Michelle Harrison in the fifth, who gave up a three-run double to Stefanie Volpe in the bottom of the sixth for the Wolverines’ 5-2 win. The loss drops Harrison to 7-5.
Michigan’s Marie Barda (13-1) held Minnesota to just three hits in the complete game win. Three Wolverines pitchers held the Gophers to 14 hits and five earned runs in three games.
Shannon Beeler was the only Gopher to have more than one hit in a game.
The nightcap was over by the second inning, as the Wolverines sent 11 batters to the plate and scored five runs in the first inning off freshman Heather Brown.
The Gophers got an unearned run in the first inning, but Michigan added an unearned run in the second for a 6-1 lead. Sophomore Angel Braden hit her first home run of the season, a two-run shot in the fourth to cut the lead to 6-3, but the Wolverines scored two more runs in the seventh to push the lead back to five.
Brown didn’t make it out of the first inning and lost for the first time this season.
On Sunday, Minnesota took the early lead again when Michelle Bennett knocked in Steph Midthun with a single in the first inning. But the Gophers couldn’t hold on as Michigan scored two in the bottom half of the first and one more in the second.
The Gophers got a bases-loaded walk by Nygren in the fourth and an RBI double by Nygren in the sixth, but their inability to hit people home cost them the game.
“You can’t leave 14 runners on base and expect to win the ball game,” Bernstein said.
Klaviter only went the first 4 1/3 innings in taking her sixth loss of the season. She gave up seven earned runs in nine innings in the series.
The 6-3 win for Michigan was Wolverines coach Carol Hutchins’ 600th of her coaching career at Michigan.
Despite the relatively close losses, Minnesota is not about to concede the season. The Gophers will try to regroup by Tuesday, when they travel to Ames, Iowa for a non-conference doubleheader against Iowa State.
“We are looking forward to still doing some great things this season,” Bernstein said. “And we have to get ready for Tuesday at Iowa State.”