Softball falls short in NCAA regional

Mark Heller

LOS ANGELES — At the NCAA regional softball tournament Saturday, No. 23 Missouri didn’t play like a team deserving of such a lofty ranking. But the Tigers played well enough to make the Gophers look out of their league.
Too much Missouri speed, two errors and sparse hitting led to Minnesota’s 3-0 loss at Easton Stadium, and cost the Gophers (48-20) a chance to move into the title game against UCLA on Sunday.
It was the second loss of the day for Minnesota in the double-elimination tournament, after losing 5-0 in the first game of the day to the Bruins.
“It’s a frustrating way to end the season,” Gophers co-coach Lisa Bernstein said. “Not at all the way we expected the outcome to be, but we didn’t get the job done in all three facets of the game and Missouri did a great job.”
A bunt hit by Shawna Robinson and throwing errors by Angel Braden and Michelle Bennett gave Missouri (41-20) the first run of the game in the sixth. Minnesota starter Steph Klaviter then gave up an RBI single to Kim Slover, and the Tigers added a third run for insurance.
“(Klaviter) was throwing me outside the whole game and was getting the calls,” Slover said. “So I knew I had to go with the pitch. I wasn’t trying to rip the ball, just get a base hit.”
There were no late-inning heroics this time for the Gophers, like at last weekend’s Big Ten championships. As it had done during most of the tournament, Minnesota went down quietly in the last two innings.
Stephanie Falk (27-12) had Minnesota baffled the entire game, mixing up her fastball and change-up and constantly getting ahead in the count. She pitched a complete game, giving up just five hits, no walks and no runs.
Klaviter (23-11) did her part, going all seven innings, giving up two earned runs and striking out a career-high 10.
“After the (Cal State) Northridge game (which Missouri won 3-0), I knew what adjustments I had to make and I made them,” Falk said. “I worked on my change-up and got it back to where I was happy with it.”
“When you get to a regional tournament, these are the best teams in the country,” Tigers coach Jay Miller said. “These are the kinds of games you expect. But the key is who can step up and get the hit when the game is on the line and when there are runners in scoring position.”
That’s exactly what the Gophers were lacking.
Missouri used the short ball to beat Minnesota, but it was the UCLA’s long ball that did in the Gophers in the first game on Saturday.
The No. 1-seed Bruins (58-6) hit three home runs off Klaviter and Michelle Harrison in the Gophers 5-0 loss. Pac-10 player of the year Stacey Nuveman hit two of those three, a solo shot in the bottom of the third and a three-run shot in the bottom of the fifth. She has 30 home runs this season.
“I have been struggling as of late,” Nuveman said. “So it felt good to bust out a little.”
“They’re such a great hitting team,” Bernstein said. “You can’t pitch around all of them, there aren’t enough bases.”
Meanwhile, Minnesota had no answer for UCLA’s Pac-10 pitcher of the year Courtney Dale. She was in top form, not allowing a hit until the top of the seventh and yielding just one walk. She faced one batter over the minimum to push her season record go 30-1.
“I just wanted to go out and make sure my ball was moving, hit my spots inside and outside and get ahead,” Dale said. “I was able to get ahead and throw my change-up.”
After beating Creighton 2-0 on Thursday, the Gophers beat Cal State-Northridge 2-1 on Friday on a solo home run by Dana Ballard in the top of the seventh, her first of the season.
Cal State hit Klaviter hard early, and Harrison (10-7) relieved Klaviter in the bottom of the third. Harrison gave up a run in the third, but settled down and went to work on the Matadors, keeping them off the scoreboard the rest of the way.
So Minnesota ended its season with a respectable 2-2 showing at the tournament, and although the team was clearly unhappy with the final outcome, it’s been a season that won’t soon be forgotten.
“I guess postseason does something to you,” Ballard said. “I played with (the five seniors) for three years now and it’s going to be rough to see them go. I know that I don’t want it to end.”