After finishing the fall season with a 3-1 record, Minnesota’s softball team members said they think there’s reason to be optimistic heading into the spring.
“This year’s team is ahead of last year’s at this time,” co-head coach Julie Standering said. “These live-game situations help us a lot and we looked in relatively good shape.”
After sweeping Wisconsin-Superior in a doubleheader Thursday, the Gophers split a Saturday doubleheader with Concordia-St. Paul, losing the early game 2-1 and winning the second 8-5.
The Gophers lost the early game largely because they were unable to solve Bears pitcher Kristin Schmidt. She allowed only four hits and one run, while striking out six in five innings of work.
Concordia jumped out to an early lead in the third inning, scoring two runs by stringing together four hits off Gophers’ sophomore pitcher Mandy Valadez.
It would be all the Bears needed. The Gophers finally got on the board in the bottom of the fifth with a two-out rally, but could not get the equalizer. Though the Gophers again threatened in the sixth with two on and one out, the Bears held on.
“Their pitching was the biggest difference from game to game,” senior Stephanie Sward said. “Schmidt was really tough and we couldn’t get enough going offensively.”
As Sward indicated, the second game was a different story. Despite falling to a 4-1 deficit in the third inning, the Gophers battled back, chipping away at the lead.
Scoring a run in both the bottom of the fourth and fifth innings, the Gophers entered the sixth trailing by a run.
Doubles by junior Valerie Alston and senior Rachel Keeney evened the score at four, but the Gophers didn’t stop there.
After an infield single by Sward gave the Gophers a 5-4 lead, sophomore catcher Megan Higginbotham hit a base-clearing triple into right field to put the game on ice.
Concordia scored a run in the top of the seventh but never seriously threatened as Valadez completed her three-inning relief stint, allowing just one single, two walks and an unearned run.
“I knew I just had to hold them in the second game,” Valadez said. “There was just a feeling that we could do it together as a team.”
The biggest theme this weekend seemed to be the team, as Standering, Sward and Valadez all sang the praises of their young team.
“We’ve only been practicing for a week with some of these new players,” Standering said. “And for all of us to come out and perform like we did – I’m happy.”