Gophers win three straight for big weekend

Middlebrooks pitched well for Minnesota en route to four wins.

by Marco LaNave

The best way for the Minnesota softball team to finish its worst nonconference season in 15 years was with a winning streak. The Gophers (14-20) capped a 4-1 weekend at the Spring Hill Suites Invitational in Boise, Idaho with their first three-game winning streak of the season. âÄúEverybodyâÄôs very excited to get some wins this weekend,âÄù said freshman pitcher Lacey Middlebrooks, who won all four games. âÄúWe just tried to come in again with a positive attitude âĦ wanting to get the job done, wanting to come home with more wins.âÄù Entering the tournament with 11 losses in their previous 14 games, the Gophers needed a strong pitching performance from Middlebrooks against host Boise State on Friday. The freshman took a 3-0, one-hit shutout into the bottom of the seventh inning. Boise State scored twice in the seventh, though, and had the tying run at first base with two outs. But Middlebrooks, who had lost her previous two starts on walk-off hits, ended the BroncosâÄô rally by catching a line drive off the bat of Broncos left fielder Laeha Hill. âÄúThose walk-off games have helped,âÄù Middlebrooks said. âÄúItâÄôs made me realize when to buckle down and when to relax.âÄù The 3-2 victory snapped MinnesotaâÄôs season-high five-game losing streak. Despite another impressive performance by Middlebrooks, the Gophers suffered a 1-0 loss to Portland State on Saturday. It was their 12th shutout loss this season and their 10th defeat by two runs or fewer. In SaturdayâÄôs second game, the Gophers were on the verge of another close loss, as they trailed in extra innings against Weber State, a team that entered with no wins in its first 20 games of the season. But sophomore catcher Kari Dorle hit an RBI double in the bottom of eighth. Senior right fielder Abby Rehberger hit a ninth-inning sacrifice fly to give the Gophers a 5-4 walk-off victory. Weber State took a 4-3 second-inning lead on Sunday morning, but the GophersâÄô offense exploded for 11 runs over the next three innings en route to a 14-4 win. âÄúWhen hard times come, youâÄôre kind of praying for the good to come,âÄù said freshman third baseman Alex Davis, who went 4-for-4 with two of the GophersâÄô five home runs. âÄúI stopped thinking ahead of myself, and I focused in on every pitch that was coming.âÄù Middlebrooks, who earned both victories in relief over the Wildcats, also started SundayâÄôs rematch with Portland State. The Vikings scored two first-inning runs, but the GophersâÄô hot hitting continued in a four-run first inning that led to a 6-3 victory, which improved Middlebrooks to 14-9 this season. The Gophers hit seven home runs in the two Sunday games. The GophersâÄô 14 nonconference wins were their fewest since winning just 12 nonconference games in 1995. The 20 nonconference losses were their most since losing 21 such contests in the 1991 regular season. âÄúI definitely thought we would be heading into the Big Ten season with a winning record, without a doubt,âÄù co-head coach Lisa Bernstein said. âÄúWeâÄôre a young team âĦ Every day is a learning experience, and weâÄôre actually getting better at things that we were struggling with earlier in the year, so as a coach I see improvement.âÄù