Of the regular five through nine hitters on the Gophers softball team, only one — Angel Braden at .306 — is hitting more than .300 in conference games. Minnesota as a team is hitting an abysmal .239 in the Big Ten season.
But while the bottom half of the lineup isn’t exactly putting up triple-crown numbers this season, its presence was finally felt against Wisconsin.
In the doubleheader, Michelle Bennett, Morgan Holden, Meghan Smith, Amy Hafemeyer and Braden, along with Dana Ballard and Erin Brophy — all of whom shared time at the bottom of the Minnesota lineup — scored four of the team’s six runs in game one. The six hitters combined to drive in all four runs in the second game to give the Gophers a sweep.
“Our bottom half did an excellent job,” Gophers co-coach Lisa Bernstein said. “They came up huge in crucial situations.”
On a team that is barely scoring three runs per conference game, the Gophers are hoping to get more of a boost from the bottom five in the lineup to make some noise in the Big Ten tournament.
“We’re struggling for RBIs and for the key hit,” Bernstein said. “We need to put the ball in play in key situations. I expect (the bottom half) to put the ball in play, get on base and take the pressure off our three and four hitters.”
Minnesota’s lack of production is also evident in RBI distribution. The trio of No. 3 hitter Shannon Beeler, No. 4 Jordanne Nygren and Braden has driven in 17 of the team’s 27 RBIs in the conference season.
“We have left a lot of runners on base,” said freshman catcher Meghan Smith, who hits in the eighth or ninth spots. “We’ll watch the first pitch go by and swing at a bad one or foul one off. Then you’re at the umpire’s mercy, or the pitcher will throw her best pitch to get you out.”
But the Wisconsin series might be a preview of better things to come. Minnesota gets Indiana (17-29 overall, 3-10 in the Big Ten) this weekend at the Bierman Softball Stadium.
This weekend will be a golden opportunity for Minnesota to get three wins, and maybe give the lineup some confidence to score more than three runs.
“I think teams are starting to pitch around the big RBI hitters (Beeler and Nygren),” Smith said. “So everyone needs to produce to score. We can’t just rely on the big hitters.”