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Big Ten elite sweep Gophers

Minnesota lost four games to Michigan and Northwestern during the weekend.

The lineup might have changed a couple of times, but the results were all the same for Minnesota’s softball team this weekend.

The Gophers continued to be plagued by insufficient offense as they lost all four Big Ten contests at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium.

The Gophers (18-20, 1-7 Big Ten) lost 7-4 and 5-2 to No. 18 Northwestern on Friday and Saturday, respectively, and were swept by top-ranked Michigan 4-0 and 11-0 in five innings Sunday.

Minnesota has now lost seven consecutive conference games, scoring a total of nine runs in those defeats.

“We’re just trying to put the ball in play,” junior second baseman Valerie Alston said. “We just happen to be hitting it right at people. I think we’re taking good, quality at-bats. We’re just not getting the key hits.”

Alston also said there’s no real secret to breaking out of the slump and the Gophers will just have to be patient.

“You just keep working hard,” she said. “Keep swinging at good pitches, and eventually, you’ll find a hole. That’s kind of how it works in softball.”

Of course, the Wildcats (26-9, 8-0) and Wolverines (40-3, 7-1) pitchers also factored in the Gophers’ plate problems throughout the four games.

The four pitchers Minnesota faced – Northwestern’s Courtnay Foster and Eileen Canney, and Michigan’s Jennie Ritter and Lorilyn Wilson – have a combined record of 61-10 this season.

Gophers co-coach Lisa Bernstein was especially impressed by the Wolverines pitchers.

“We hit the ball more than some of the Big Ten teams that have faced them,” Bernstein said.

The Gophers also had problems with a key section in each opponent’s lineup.

Northwestern’s one-through-four hitters – Stephanie Churchwell, Erin Mobley, Garland Cooper and Jamie Dotson – went 10-for-22 with a home run, 10 RBIs and six runs in the two games.

On Sunday, Michigan’s three-through-six hitters – Jessica Merchant, Samantha Findlay, Nicole Motycka and Grace Leutele – went 12-for-20 with four home runs, 13 RBIs and 10 runs in the sweep.

“They’re good hitters, and they haven’t all been on at all times,” Michigan coach Carol Hutchins said of the heart of her lineup.

“I think hitting’s a contagious thing. Once you get a couple of kids, that hit it, it’s easier for the other kids, because they don’t feel any pressure.”

And despite the mounting conference losses, the Gophers insist they’re not feeling any.

They said they remain optimistic and hope their continued hard work will lead to different results Thursday when they play North Dakota State at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium for a doubleheader.

“We’ll keep plugging away,” Bernstein said. “We’ll keep getting after it, and we’ll take care of it on Thursday.”

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