Clutch hits, pitching lifts

by Mark Heller

For the first two months of the season, the Gophers softball team has relied heavily on the clutch run production of senior shortstop Shannon Beeler and the pitching of junior Steph Klaviter and freshman Heather Brown.
Not wanting to ruin a good thing, Minnesota (26-10 overall, 2-1 conference) again relied on the hitting of Beeler and the pitching of Klaviter and Brown in the Big Ten opening series against Purdue (20-14, 1-2), winning two of three games against the Boilermakers.
But Gophers co-coach Lisa Bernstein refused to call the series a three-person show.
“It was a total team effort,” Bernstein said. “Our offense was explosive, we got great pitching and, except for one inning, played pretty good defense.”
Minnesota’s 2-1 win on Sunday was a low-scoring affair, but Beeler — as All-American players tend to do — came through when the team needed her.
Purdue went ahead 1-0 in the bottom of the sixth inning, but Minnesota tied the score in the top of the seventh on a Tammi Hays bunt single. She advanced to second on a wild pitch, and Beeler singled to center to drive in Hays and tie the score at 1-1.
Both teams were shut out until the top of the ninth, when Hays reached on a bunt single. Beeler singled again to move Hays to second, and Jordanne Nygren hit a smash to third that the Boilermakers’ Katie Crabtree couldn’t handle. Hays scored the eventual game-winning run.
“That’s why (Beeler) is an All-American,” Bernstein said. “She’s going to come through in those situations.”
In the meantime, Klaviter and Brown stymied the Boilermakers, combining to allow four hits and one run in nine innings. Klaviter pitched the first seven innings, and Brown threw the last two to earn the win, improving to 7-0 this season. She struck out the side in the ninth inning, whiffing a total of five in two innings.
“She’s proved herself over the season,” Bernstein said, referring to Brown. “She’s very competitive and aggressive, and she did a great job for us.”
Saturday’s doubleheader was split, with Minnesota winning the first game and Purdue winning the second.
Michelle Harrison was less successful on the mound in the second game. She was roughed up for five runs — three earned — and five hits in three-plus innings. Four errors by the Gophers defense didn’t help the cause. Harrison took the loss and is now 7-4 for the season.
Klaviter shut down Purdue in the first game, giving up just one unearned run and four hits while throwing a complete game. The win raised her mark to 9-5 this season.
Beeler knocked in three more runs, and Angel Braden had two hits and an RBI in her first action since an eye injury sidelined her five weeks ago.
Minnesota will take on Drake on Wednesday afternoon at the Bierman softball stadium before heading to Michigan this weekend for a crucial three-game series.
That means the Gophers will be back on the road, but the team has no problem with that.
“Playing on the road doesn’t faze us,” Bernstein said. “We’re used to the road with the way our schedule is, so winning on the road is second nature.”