Losses end Big Ten season

by Chris Lempesis

It’s possible Minnesota’s softball team’s 2006 Big Ten season could’ve ended on a worse note Sunday, but it’s hard to imagine.

The Gophers’ pair of losses to Purdue, which brought their conference record to 1-17 (14-31 overall), both came by one-run – 5-4 in the first game and 4-3 in the second.

The losses put Minnesota’s record at 1-8 in Big Ten games that were decided by two runs or less.

“We haven’t had the breaks,” co-coach Julie Standering said. “Record-wise and statistic-wise what’s on paper is not really the team that takes the field every day. This team played (No. 17) Northwestern tough, these games, one run losses, it’s tough. We haven’t had the breaks go our way.”

That happened again Sunday as, in two different situations, the Gophers were unable to hold onto late leads.

In game one Minnesota couldn’t hang on to its 4-3 lead in the top of the sixth. Things were even worse and more indicative in game two as the Gophers led 3-2 in the bottom of the seventh before two bad breaks cost them the game.

The first came with the score at 3-2 and runners on first and second with one out. A ground ball from Purdue’s Tricia Lilley took a bad hop past Minnesota’s second baseman Valerie Alston and went into right field, allowing the game-tying run.

Then, with two outs and the bases loaded, pitcher Rene Konderik was unable to get a pitch across for a strike, walking in the game-winner.

“These were some tight ballgames – could’ve gone either way,” Standering said. “So the fight, the determination, the character and the ‘never give up,’ they have that. The determination, the foundations for a successful program. But they’re not getting the key hit or play when the game’s on the line.”

Despite this, Konderik said, there have been some positives in the mounting losses.

“I think from the season we’ve had, I think people have learned to never give up,” Konderik said.

“From the bottom to the top, I think people are fighters on this team, for sure.”

And catcher Megan Higginbotham said the young Gophers – who have 11 underclassmen on their 19-player roster – will be a different program for learning those lessons.

“I think we’ve handled a lot of adversity this year with traveling nine weekends in a row,” Higginbotham said. “That’s a big deal and then coming out here and playing the kind of ball that we play, regardless of the chances that we don’t have and I think that shows a lot of character.”