This week’s schedule for the Gophers softball team originally looked like this:
A three-game series at Michigan last Friday through Sunday, followed by a doubleheader at Iowa State Tuesday, another one against Northern Iowa on Thursday and finally a three-game series at home against Penn State this weekend.
During the course of the week, senior Shannon Beeler hit her 39th career home run to break the all-time Big Ten record. Freshman Jordanne Nygren tied a single-game school record with seven RBIs in the second game against Iowa State, hitting her 11th and 12th homers of the season.
But the individual milestones didn’t add up to victories. The Gophers were swept at Michigan and split their two games against Iowa State, continuing their season-long trend of up-and-down play.
With a hectic week of games and a losing record in the Big Ten, Thursday’s rain-out might have been the best thing for No. 25 Minnesota (29-14 overall, 2-4 in Big Ten). It gave the Gophers a chance to relax for one day and it gives a couple of ill players a chance to recover in time to host Penn State at the Bierman Softball Field.
“It’s just something we’re definitely going to play through,” Minnesota co-coach Lisa Bernstein said, referring to the team’s inconsistency. “We’re going to have a good three- to four-hour practice (Friday) and hopefully we’ll have 21 kids come out to play.”
Penn State, on the other hand, was 4-2 in the conference earlier this week and off to its best start in conference play since 1992. But the Nittany Lions, like every other team that plays Michigan, were swept by the Wolverines on Tuesday to bring them back with most of the rest of the pack.
The Gophers have owned Penn State, going 21-5 in their previous engagements and splitting their two meetings last year. Minnesota desperately needs to make it 24-5 by the end of the weekend to stay alive in the conference race.
Sweeping the series against the Nittany Lions would be a huge boost for Minnesota, which will play 11 of its final 18 conference games at home.
“They are very solid in all three components,” Bernstein said, referring to Penn State’s pitching, defense and hitting. “But we’re at home, and we need three wins when we’re at home now.”
Bernstein, however, sees some good things with the Gophers’ play and believes this season can turn out on the upside, starting with the game against Penn State.
“I think over the last 15 games we’ve hit really well, played better defense and gotten pretty good pitching,” Bernstein said. “We need to be more strategic on the mound and not give hitters pitches they can drive. But if we take care of the ball, we’ll be in very good shape.”