Shortage of hits dooms

Mark Heller

LOS ANGELES — When a team advances to a regional championship tournament, three factors in its success stand out: strong pitching, a minimum of defensive mistakes and clutch hitting.
For most of the NCAA regional tournament this weekend, the Minnesota softball team had two of the three working: pitching and defense.
Two out of three ain’t bad, of course, but close didn’t cut it.
The Gophers had all three components working a week before, when they beat Michigan on its home field twice in the same day to win their first-ever conference championship. But their inability to produce runs throughout the weekend finally caught up with them against Missouri.
“I don’t think we had great pitch selection,” Gophers co-coach Lisa Bernstein said. “We were trying to be aggressive, but we were pulling our head out too much and not hitting the ball where it was pitched. A lot of our hitters struggled at the same time, and it’s tough to win ballgames that way.”
On Thursday, Minnesota could only manage two runs against Creighton, and three errors by the Bluejays were mostly responsible for those runs.
Against Cal State-Northridge, Minnesota got some late-inning heroics on Dana Ballard’s home run in the top of the seventh for a 2-1 win. But even then, Minnesota posed no threat to score between the first and seventh innings.
The Gophers managed two hits in the seventh inning — the only two they could muster in the game — in its 5-0 loss to UCLA. But it is nearly impossible to find a team that has had success against the No. 1 Bruins.
The Minnesota defense had been nearly flawless against No. 23 Missouri until the sixth, when two errors gave the Tigers the only runs they would need in a 3-0 win over the Gophers. Minnesota managed just five hits in the game and posed very little threat to score.
“We didn’t string hits together this weekend like we did last weekend,” Shannon Beeler said. “They’re all very good pitchers we faced, but if we could have gotten some timely hits, the outcome would have been different.”
The coaches stressed this week the importance of being more aggressive at the plate and swinging early in the count. By and large the Gophers did that, but had nothing on the scoreboard to show for it.
Freshman Jordanne Nygren was one of many who had little to show offensively this weekend. She has struggled the past couple weeks, and the coaches dropped her from fourth to sixth in the lineup.
“It’s been rough,” Nygren said. “I’m very disappointed in myself. I didn’t carry myself very well for the team, and I’m a lot better than what I displayed this weekend. I think we all are a lot better than what we did this weekend.”
By no means was Nygren the only one who was disappointed.
“It seems like we were just waiting for that one key hit to spark everything,” senior Erin Brophy said. “I thought we were more aggressive at the plate than we have been, but we didn’t get the hits.”
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect on the part of the players and coaches concerning the hitting this weekend is that everyone seemed to know what went wrong, but they didn’t know why.
“It just makes me think that this just wasn’t meant for us to happen,” Brophy said. “That’s the only thing I can think of.”