Softball pushes win streak to seven

Mark Heller

The Minnesota softball team continues to fuel its own fire.
Northwestern became the latest kindling for the Gophers on Wednesday, as Minnesota swept the Wildcats in a doubleheader at Evanston, Ill.
The Gophers (38-15 overall, 11-5 in the Big Ten) have won seven consecutive games, while Northwestern (25-28, 6-10) has lost its last five.
“I was pleased that we earned two wins,” Gophers co-coach Lisa Bernstein said. “I thought our offense was very balanced, and many players came through for us. Steph (Klaviter) and Heather (Brown) both pitched solid games, and they need to continue that at Michigan State (this weekend).”
The Gophers got off to a slow start in the first game, trailing 2-1 until the top of the sixth inning.
Angel Braden worked a lead-off walk and advanced to second on a base hit by Jordanne Nygren. Michelle Bennett sacrificed Braden to third and Nygren to second. Erin Brophy flied out, but Morgan Holden blooped a single into center to score Braden and Nygren and give Minnesota a 3-2 lead.
“I wanted to do something to score the runners,” Holden said. “It didn’t matter what kind of hit it was, I just needed to get it done. I want to be up in that situation.”
The Gophers batted around in the top of the seventh, scoring six runs. Shannon Beeler’s double down the left field line scored Steph Midthun. Nygren singled to left to score Tammi Hays and load the bases. Bennett forced in a run with a walk to score Beeler, and Brophy reached on an error to score Nygren.
The Wildcats got two outs, but Midthun singled to center to score Brophy and close out the Gophers’ 9-2 win.
Klaviter (17-7) pitched six innings, giving up five hits and one earned run. She has earned a win in her last six appearances.
Minnesota put the second game away early on a grand slam by Braden in the bottom of the third inning. It was just her second home run of the season.
“I don’t know what kind of pitch it was,” Braden said. “It was on the inside part of the plate, and I just wanted to hit it hard. I was just trying to make contact; I wasn’t trying to hit a home run.”
“Angel has been coming through for us all season,” Bernstein said. “I didn’t expect her to hit a home run, but I expected her to come through in that situation.”
Braden’s grand slam was Minnesota’s 36th home run of the season, a new Gophers single-season record.
Minnesota added another run in the fourth when Bennett walked and was sacrificed to second by Holden. Brophy singled, moving Bennett to third. Dana Ballard then grounded out, scoring Bennett.
A two-run single by Midthun in the bottom of the sixth gave Minnesota a 7-1 lead.
Heather Brown got her 11th win of the season, going six innings and giving up just three hits and one run, walking one and striking out four. Brown has lost only once in 12 games this season.
Michigan State (36-17, 10-6) won both of its games on Wednesday to remain one game behind Minnesota for second place in the Big Ten and will host the Gophers in a huge three-game series this weekend in East Lansing, Mich.
“I’m excited,” Holden said. “These are going to be big games.”