Bernstein’s 500th win is Gophers’ first conference win

Minnesota beat Wisconsin 4-2 in the second game of Sunday’s twin bill.

Chris Lempesis

With two on and no out in the bottom of the sixth inning of a 2-2 ballgame against Wisconsin on Sunday, Minnesota’s softball team’s second baseman Valerie Alston and co-coach Julie Standering had a decision to make:

Swing away or bunt.

A bunt would be good for advancing the runners into scoring position, but swinging away could bring in one – or both – runners.

After briefly talking about it, Standering decided Alston would get one free swing before bunting.

And as Alston said: “I took advantage of (the free swing) and hit the ball hard.”

She certainly did as Alston ripped a two-run double to the gap in left-center and those runs proved to be the difference as the Gophers earned a 4-2 win over the Badgers in Madison, Wis., for their first Big Ten win of the season, snapping a 10-game losing streak.

The win also came on the heels of a tough 3-2, eight-inning loss to Wisconsin in game 1 of Sunday’s doubleheader and a sweep at the hands of Iowa on Friday and Saturday. Minnesota lost 3-0 on Saturday and 2-0 on Friday.

“I’m just so proud of the attitudes and the effort and the approach of this group of women and this coaching staff,” co-coach Lisa Bernstein said. “I mean, if you look at our record (12-21, 1-7 Big Ten), you can be like ‘Wow, a little overwhelming right now’. But, it’s really a great energy about us.”

In game two Sunday, the Gophers went up on the Badgers (15-14, 2-4 Big Ten) 2-0 in the bottom of the fifth before watching the home team even the score in their half of the sixth.

Alston said the team’s confidence was never rattled, however.

“Never once during that game was I thinking ‘Oh my god, we’re going to lose,’ ” she said.

This is sort of surprising considering how Minnesota lost game 1 against Wisconsin.

With the game tied at one going into extra innings, the Gophers pulled ahead 2-1 on a home run to center off the bat of third baseman Lisa Parks.

But the Badgers loaded the bases in the bottom of the eighth, evened it on a one-out single and won it when Minnesota reliever Rene Konderik plunked Joey Daniels in the calf with the bases still loaded to force in the winning run.

“The funny thing was, the air (after the first game) was just like ‘We’re gonna go get the next (win),’ ” said Konderik, who bounced back to earn the mound win in game two.

And that’s just what the Gophers did in picking up Bernstein’s 500th career win.

But Sunday Bernstein seemed more pleased with her team’s efforts in earning Big Ten win No. 1 for the season.

“We’ve been so close in all of these ballgames,” she said. “We’re working hard; the kids are staying to task. They’re believing. They’ve got great energy and they just know that we just had to get a little bit of luck to go our way.”