Minnesota to meet North Dakota State in midweek matchup

The Gophers bring a four-game winning streak into today’s doubleheader.

by Mark Heise

Things are looking good for the Minnesota softball team as the Gophers take their four-game win streak home to Jane Sage Cowles Stadium today at 4 p.m., hoping to expand their good fortunes in a doubleheader against North Dakota State.

“It’s always fun to be home,” senior outfielder Katie Meyer said. “There’s something about being home that’s really comforting, and it’ll be nice to be able to take on a scrappy team like North Dakota State here instead of on the road.”

It will be a homecoming of sorts for the Bison (27-19 overall) as well, as six players on the team’s roster will be returning to their home state to play.

Two of those six, junior Allison Bakke and freshman Melissa Chmielewski, could prove to be tough outs, hitting .360 and .311, respectively. Chmielewski leads the team with 35 RBI.

Bakke has been tough to hit from the pitcher’s circle as well this year, recording 17 of the Bison’s 27 wins while racking up a 1.23 ERA – the 23rd-best earned run average in the nation. As a team, North Dakota State sports an impressive ERA of 1.89.

Leaving Minnesota for North Dakota after a successful career at Anoka High School, Bakke said she looks forward to returning home to compete.

“I’m happy to have the chance to come back and pitch,” she said. “It helps pump me up, especially getting to pitch against the Gophers (17-16, 2-4 Big Ten). They’re sort of rivals for us, so that adds another aspect great to the game.”

For Bakke to pull out a win in her home state, the Bison will need to find a way to exploit one of Minnesota’s few weak areas.

One of the struggles Gophers’ coach Lisa Bernstein said needed to be addressed was the lack of production from the sixth, seventh and eighth slots in the batting order.

“All of those kids have good swings, but I think right now they’re putting a little too much pressure on themselves,” she said. “We’re trying to get them to stay a little more relaxed until they can get back into a groove at the plate.”

The rest of the lineup has been hot as of late, however, with seniors Megan Higginbotham and Mandy Valadez leading the way. And sophomore infielder Colleen Conway may be the hottest hitter of them all, racking up hits in her last three games to raise her batting average to .278.

With a pair of shutouts Tuesday against UW-Green Bay, the pitching staff seems to be coming together for Minnesota as well. The Gophers have shown the ability to pitch out of some tough situations in the last few games, which has become a big asset to the team.

“We just want to keep doing what we’ve been doing,” senior pitcher Rene Konderik said. “We’ve been keeping the hitters off balance, locating our pitches and changing speeds well. Our staff is really pulling together right now.”

With two strong pitching staffs butting heads, the midweek matchup could prove challenging for Minnesota.

“North Dakota State is going to be a challenge,” Bernstein said. “They’ve taken games off of Wisconsin and Iowa, they pitch well and they’ve got some good hitters. It’s going to be a good contest for us.”