Gophers softball struggles in Metrodome double-header

Some say the Metrodome is a football stadium that never quite looked right for baseball. True or not, it certainly looks strange for softball. The baseball dirt mound, as well as the dirt are surrounding the bases, have to be leveled and covered with green patches. A series of 40 plastic white fences sit anywhere from 112 feet to 193 feet in front of the regular outfield wall — which, when struck by a ball, are liable to fall over. A bullpen is setup beyond the fence in right field, around where a major league right fielder might play. The infield gives truer hops, according to players, but the balls come a lot faster. ThatâÄôs especially important in softball, where the infield is smaller. The Gophers softball team struggled with the new conditions Thursday, being swept by Western Illinois by scores of 6-3 and 11-3. In their first game, the Gophers committed five errors that lead to five unearned runs. âÄúThatâÄôs pretty uncharacteristic of us,âÄù said co-head coach Julie Standering, whose team finished top-10 nationally in fielding percentage last season. âÄúWe know weâÄôll get back on track.âÄù The games kicked off the Metrodome Classic Tournament, which is MinnesotaâÄôs longest weekend tournament of the season. TheyâÄôll have played six games by Sunday evening, against Western Illinois, Northern Iowa, Wisconsin-Green Bay, Arkansas and Drake. They are the only games the Gophers will play in the Dome this year, which is about right for senior pitcher Brianna Hasset. âÄúI love playing outside, so itâÄôs definitely fun going down south and playing on a real field,âÄù Hasset said. âÄúBut itâÄôs a great opportunity to be here and know that weâÄôre not going to get rained out or anything.âÄù Most of the teamâÄôs nonconference schedule is broken into weekend tournaments. After this weekend they have tournaments in Corpus Christi, Texas, Fullerton, Calif., Tucson, Ariz. and Louisville, Ky. The length of the games (seven innings, instead of the traditional nine in baseball) makes it possible to play five games in a weekend. The Gophers stuck with their rotation of just two pitchers, with Hasset pitching the first and freshman Alissa Koch pitching the second. Last season, Hasset and then-junior Katie Dalen combined to pitch every inning for the Gophers, which isnâÄôt uncommon among softballâÄôs top teams. Dalen, who had never had an at-bat before this season, became a utility player to make way for Koch. Hasset, who pitched two complete game shutouts in Tampa Bay, Fla. last weekend, had her numbers improved by the defenseâÄôs errors, finishing with just one earned run while striking out nine and walking four. Koch gave up a season-high 10 earned runs. Catcher Shannon Stemper had three RBIs in the first game, including MinnesotaâÄôs first home run of the year. The two losses dropped the Gophers to 3-4. âÄúItâÄôs really nice waking up in the morning knowing we arenâÄôt going to rained out and knowing itâÄôll be 70 degrees and weâÄôll be playing in front of our friends and family,âÄù senior Colleen Conway said. âÄúSo weâÄôre really excited for the rest of this weekend, even though it might not have looked like it today.âÄù