Minnesota heads south for tournament

The Gophers have high hopes for the Georgia Southern Tournament.

Mark Heise

Minnesota softball coach Lisa Bernstein set a bold goal for this weekend, after starting the season 6-5.

“We want to go in there, take care of business and walk out of there with the tournament championship,” Bernstein said.

The championship Bernstein is talking about is the Georgia Southern tournament, where the Gophers will face off against Oakland and Jacksonville today at 1:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., respectively, and Georgia Southern at 11 a.m. Saturday.

After spending last weekend earning a 3-2 record at home despite being in a position to win every game, getting over the hump and bringing the tying and winning runs home has become a focus for Minnesota, junior catcher Shannon Stemper said.

“Last weekend we ended both of our losses with the tying runs on base,” she said. “We need to focus on not leaving runners on base, especially in those situations. A 6-5 record isn’t where we want to be at this point.”

The Gophers will have an opportunity to change that this weekend, as Georgia Southern currently holds a losing record at 6-8, Jacksonville is on a four-game skid and has already lost to Minnesota this season and Oakland has yet to see competition this year.

Oakland was picked to place fifth in the Summit League, two places below North Dakota State, a team the Gophers swept last season.

The Grizzlies return six starters to the lineup, and have added speed with freshman outfielder Kelsey Krych, who set a national record with 261 stolen bases in high school over 263 attempts.

Jacksonville split two games with the Gophers earlier this season, and recorded just 11 hits over two games, struggling against Minnesota’s pitching.

The Dolphins will be looking to pull out of their recent rut however, as they have been outscored 25-10 in their last four games.

The final team Minnesota will face may provide the biggest challenge, as Georgia Southern boasts a lineup which includes eight starters batting at least .298 this season. Minnesota has three players hitting above .300 this year.

But the Gophers should be able to keep up with the Eagles’ pitching as junior pitchers Katie Dalen and Briana Hassett have been strong performers so far this season.

“Both our pitchers are solid right now,” Stemper said. “As long as they continue to keep us in games and give our offense a chance to do its job, we should be in good shape.”

One area Minnesota will need to improve on is the continuing development of its freshmen, who have been coming along nicely so far this season. With three freshmen in the starting lineup each day, the Gophers are in need of those players to mature quickly.

But junior third baseman Colleen Conway said that the team’s freshmen have met expectations so far.

“Every game they’re gaining experience, gaining knowledge, and adding to our success,” she said. “They’re getting a lot of experience in a lot of different areas, and that’s only going to help us once we get into the conference season.”