Griffin shuts down Gophers

Michael Dougherty

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Michigan’s Sara Griffin took home the award for Big Ten Pitcher of the Year on Friday night, but the Gophers softball team would like to present her with an award of its own — Big Time Pain in the Neck.
Griffin, who is 31-1 this season with 11 shutouts, blanked the Gophers twice during this weekend’s Big Ten tournament in Ann Arbor, Mich., eliminating them with a 1-0 four-hitter Friday, and a 4-0 seven-hitter Saturday.
With her two wins over the Gophers (46-19), Griffin improved her career record against them to 12-0 (5-0 this year) with six shut outs.
Second-ranked Michigan won the tournament, becoming the first team to advance through the losers bracket to do so.
Iowa (37-18) shocked the Wolverines when they shut them out 1-0 on Friday, giving Griffin her first loss of the year and sending Michigan to the losers’ bracket.
But the Wolverines (52-5) came back to beat the Hawkeyes 6-1 and 5-1 on Saturday to claim their fourth straight Big Ten title, and lock up the automatic bid to next weekend’s NCAA tournament.
Gophers coach Lisa Bernstein-O’Brien, meanwhile, said she’s tired of losing to Griffin and the Wolverines, and said she wished it had been her squad that finally put a notch in Griffin’s loss column.
“What is she, 31-1?” the coach asked. “I think of her 100 career wins, we’ve given her a quarter of them. I’m glad she’s graduating.”
Unlike the other games they have lost to Griffin, the Gophers were able to get more base runners on; this time, however, they couldn’t capitalize on those chances.
In Friday’s game, Gophers pitcher Steph Klaviter threw a complete game three-hitter, but was victimized by some smart hitting on the part of Michigan catcher Melissa Gentile.
In the bottom of the fourth, after Michigan right fielder Kellyn Tate reached on a ground ball over second base that Gophers second baseman Laura Peters got a glove on but was unable to handle, Gentile took a Klaviter pitch to the right-center field gap for a double, driving in the winning run.
“We had been working the outside pitch, and that’s all we had been throwing her,” Klaviter said. “When I threw it I thought it was a good pitch, but she just went with it.”
Gentile, who was named to the All-Big Ten team on Friday, said she has figured out what to do when teams try to pitch away from her.
“I think early in the season I tried to just move closer to the plate, but lately I have just been focusing on throwing my hands out and getting the outside pitch,” she said. “I mean, I can drive the outside pitch as well as anyone, as long as I can keep my head on it.”
Fortunately for Michigan, with Griffin on the mound, one run is all the team needed.
Bernstein-O’Brien, meanwhile, said she thought her club played excellently, adding that her team usually wins when it out-hits its opponent.
Leading the way at the plate for Minnesota in the first game, was slugging shortstop Shannon Beeler.
Beeler, who went 1-for-8 against Griffin in the Wolverines mid-April sweep of the Gophers, and Griffin had two memorable sequences that had some in the crowd shaking their heads.
Beeler doubled off Griffin her first time up, and she came to the plate again in the fourth.
Griffin started her out with a ball, the Beeler hit four consecutive Griffin pitches foul that would have cleared the fence, including one that almost hit the Michigan Track and Field House 260 feet away. But Griffin bore down and struck her out swinging to end the inning.
“She got the best of me the last time we played them, and I came in here more focused today,” Beeler said. “I was hitting her pitches last time and came in here knowing what to expect.”
Beeler finished the first game against Michigan 2-for-3 at the plate, and continued her hot hitting on Saturday in the first game of the losers’ bracket against Northwestern.
The Wildcats (34-19) had lost 5-2 to Iowa in the first game on Friday, and were without their captain Amanda Peterson, who was benched for the game because she had broken an unspecified team rule.
The Gophers jumped on Northwestern pitcher Jackie DeBoard right away in the top of the first, thanks to a bunt single by Peters.
After Steph Midthun was rung up for one of her four strikeouts in the game, Beeler came to the plate and hit a DeBoard pitch down the left field line that went off the glove of the left fielder for a home run.
Then in the seventh, with a cozy 4-0 lead and Peters on again, Beeler hit another DeBoard pitch hard to right field.
Right fielder Stacey Austin, who was replacing Peterson, went back to the warning track and got a glove on the ball, but it went off her glove and bounced over the fence.
Beeler’s two homers pushed her season total to 13, and broke the single-season team record of 11 held by Jennifer McGuinness.
“Both of those home runs went over the fence by about an inch-and-a-half,” Bernstein O’Brien said.
DeBoard, meanwhile, was asked if there was any talk of intentionally walking Beeler.
“I’m not afraid of Beeler,” she said. “I mean she’s a great hitter, but things happen and they were both almost caught.”
Klaviter (19-11) had a perfect game broken up with one out in the fifth inning, when Lindsey Prezell singled to left. She ended up pitching six innings of two-hit ball, and struck out five.
But the Gophers could not celebrate long, because they had to turn around and face Michigan 30 minutes after the Northwestern win.
Klaviter started again and kept the Wolverines quiet until left fielder Catherine Davie hit a two-run double in the bottom of the third.
Again the Gophers out-hit Michigan 7-5, but were unable to score runs when they needed to as they left 12 runners on base in the last four innings.
“We had opportunities to score from the third inning on,” Bernstein-O’Brien said. “But we didn’t capitalize on that, and we’ve got to do that to get to the next level.”