New Big Ten schedule might benefit Gophers

by Mark Heller

It didn’t show by way of a four-game slide to open the conference season at their new park, but the Big Ten’s new softball scheduling setup may benefit the Gophers.
In the days of old, Big Ten teams would play twice Saturday and one game Sunday for a three-game series against the same team.
This year, each team will play another team in a two-game set, allowing Minnesota to play two teams, at two games each, in a weekend. The new schedule has two games Friday, one Saturday and one Sunday.
The impetus for the change was the addition of Illinois to the Big Ten ranks. Since the Illini were added this season to the schedule, everything actually got smaller. The 18-game conference schedule is the smallest in history.
“We needed to not have so many midweek games that we thought it would be better to go this way,” said Gophers co-coach Lisa Bernstein, “and also not to beat yourself up so bad against the good conference teams. So, instead of playing everybody three times and a couple teams two times, it was more fair if everybody played everybody twice.”
It sounds better for the players with a little less wear and tear against top teams, but the games on Friday start in the early afternoon — not the easiest way to draw 1,000 people.
“They’re trying to change the start times,” Bernstein. “It’s hard with the pitching situation when you don’t have a ton of arms or depth on the mound because the kids get exhausted. But it’s one game where you put it all on the line, kind of like you did as a kid.”

Get used to it
Sophomore second-base slugger Jordanne Nygren walked four times this weekend, and she could have gotten more free passes had a couple things happened.
With all-world shortstop Shannon Beeler gone from last season, Nygren’s terrific freshman season — she tied the school record with 14 home runs to go with 59 RBI and a .308 average — moved her from cleanup to third in the batting order. She used to be Beeler’s protection; now she’s looking to be sheltered.
“When she’s been walked, Angel Braden has been behind her, and she’s solid,” said Beeler’s replacement, Shelly Nichols. “If you could have anyone behind (Nygren), it would be her.”
Braden was 2 for 11 with two runs and an RBI.

Beat that
Freshman staff ace Angie Recknor’s line for Friday’s second game:
2 IP, 9 hits, 1 run.
It’s not so much that she gave up nine hits and only run, but she did it all in two innings.
How do you give up nine hits in two innings, and only one run? Lines like that aren’t uncommon with this year’s young squad.
Said co-coach Julie Standering: “You should travel with us.”

Mark Heller covers softball and welcomes comments at [email protected]