Gophers prepare for Nebraska at regionals

by Jeff Sherry

The Gophers softball team was still flying high Monday from its NCAA regional bid, and its players sounded supremely confident of their chances in Lafayette, La., this weekend.
“Now that we have a chance to go to regionals I think our whole team is thinking there’s no turning back,” Gophers freshman pitcher Steph Klaviter said at a press conference Monday. “There’s no stopping us now. We’re going into it thinking really that all we can do is win.”
No. 13 Minnesota will not have it easy this weekend. Its first game is at 4 p.m., Friday against No. 18 Nebraska. If the Gophers win, they will face the winner of Friday’s other game between No. 5 Southwestern Louisiana and Nicholls State on Saturday. The double-elimination regional concludes Sunday.
Fiesta at Fowl Play
Minnesota’s players, coaches, family and administration gathered Sunday night at Fowl Play to learn the team’s NCAA fate. The group’s mood switched quickly when it saw the regional pairings on the television.
“You’d of thought it was funeral, but then when our name came up it was chaos — the Chateau shook, I think,” Bernstein said, referring to the 19-floor apartment building across the street. “It was great. There was nothing better than hearing their screams and seeing their tears of happiness.”
All-conference awards
Minnesota landed one player on the All-Big Ten first team and three players on the second team when the conference announced its awards Friday.
Center fielder Rachel Nelson was named to the first team for the second consecutive year. Second team honorees included Klaviter, outfielder Amber Hegland and utility player Wendy Logue, who pitches and plays first base.
Michigan won three of the four Big Ten individual awards. Sara Griffin repeated as player of the year, Carol Hutchins won coach of the year and infielder Traci Conrad won freshman of the year. Indiana’s Gina Ugo was named pitcher of the year.
The Gophers said they did not feel snubbed after receiving no individual awards and landing only one player on the first team.
“I’m a little disappointed in the fact that they didn’t get honored by their peers,” Bernstein said. “But the support they have for each other far outweighs any of that, whether they’re all-Big Ten or won no awards. We kind of take it with a grain of salt.”
The most notable Gophers who could have been recognized higher were Hegland, Klaviter, Shannon Beeler and Bernstein. In all games, Hegland led the Big Ten with 24 doubles, a .454 batting average, a .701 slugging percentage and was second with 55 RBIs. Bernstein resurrected Minnesota from a last-place 4-24 record two years ago to this season’s 17-6 second-place finish.
Beeler and Klaviter were both top candidates for freshman of the year. Klaviter entered the weekend with a 24-3 record and 1.72 ERA. Beeler had a .333 batting average and led the conference in home runs (10) and RBIs (62). Conrad, who won the award, had a .355 average with no home runs and 33 RBIs.
Bierman impresses fan
A mother of a Michigan player who has traveled to most of the Wolverines’ games this year described Bierman Softball Stadium, Minnesota’s home field, as “one of the funnest places I’ve ever watched a game.”
During the Gophers and Wolverines’ final game Saturday afternoon, the parent explained to other Michigan fans what the teams’ May 4-5 series in Minnesota was like. Minnesota set a Bierman Stadium attendance record May 4 of 822 fans.
“It was unbelievable,” she said. “It was like a big party. They have almost 1,000 people there — and there are major league teams in Minneapolis, so it’s not like there’s nothing else going on like in Iowa.”
The fan also went on about the lucky-number giveaways, sweet play candy giveaways and how kids stand on the field by their favorite Gophers during the national anthem.
“We should do those kinds of things here too,” she said. “But I don’t think we’ll be able to get the team to dance around like they do.”
The benefits of catching
Gophers junior Renee Sbrocco didn’t mind subbing for injured catcher Ann Bartholmey during Minnesota’s first game against Iowa on Friday. In fact, she rather enjoyed it.
“I kind of like playing back there because I can talk more,” Sbrocco said. “In the outfield you scream, and no one hears you. I end up talking to myself a lot.”
Bernstein gave Sbrocco instructions to talk as much as possible when behind the plate. The chatter helps Sbrocco feel comfortable.
“As soon as I get my mouth going, I forget about what’s going on, and I just react,” Sbrocco said. “And that’s how you have to play — you’ve got to react.”