Softball’s tournament chances slim heading into final weekend

by Mark Heller

The time to act is now.
Actually, it should be less of an act and more of an action.
Or two.
The “action” being wins, and “two” being the number of wins the Gophers softball team needs to at least partly avoid watching their postseason hopes flatline.
They definitely need help. Not only do the Gophers (31-26 overall, 4-11 Big Ten) have to go into Madison and swipe two from Wisconsin (30-22, 7-6), but both Michigan State and Purdue have to lose two games for Minnesota to get that sixth spot.
Oh, and Ohio State has to lose once.
Do or die?
“Pretty much, yeah,” said senior Dana Ballard, hoping the moons line up to where she won’t be playing the last two games of her career. “We need to take two games from Wisconsin, and we can’t worry about any of the other teams. We have to win those games to get anywhere.”
Having to win two games and not worrying what everyone is doing is your typical clichÇ, but in this case it’s appropriate. One loss and Minnesota walks.
“It’s exciting,” she said. “(Sunday’s 9-2) win gave us some momentum. I don’t think a lot of people want to be in this situation, but the frustration isn’t there. We’ve lost 11 (Big Ten) games, and the fact that we can still get into the Big Ten tournament is a really nice thing. Last year we wouldn’t have been able to do that.”
That’s because the top six teams go this year, but only the top four went last year. This season, Iowa, Michigan, Northwestern, Penn State and Wisconsin clinched spots.
Even if they don’t make the postseason this season, the Gophers have clinched an overall winning season for the fifth-straight year. Perhaps a testament to the players and the coaches’ abilities to work with their players. Especially this season, where Minnesota lost a tremendous chunk of last season’s team.
“This team is going to be a very, very tough team to beat in the future,” co-coach Julie Standering said. “Where this year is going to (be put in place) is in the years to come.
“It’s been about teaching. Your job is to teach them, make them more skilled, confident and empower them. Last year’s team was experienced, this team is not. But we’re going to put the players out there and they’ll give all their effort.”
But neither players nor coaches are depositing this season just yet. Last year’s Big Ten tournament upsets in Michigan are further proof that you never know what will happen.
On the flip side, playing Michigan earlier in the year and getting a middle-of-the-road team like Wisconsin now might be a blessing for the Gophers. Standering believes they match up well with Wisconsin. Besides, the Badgers are in the postseason, with little to play for.
Their opponent has everything to play for. The final scoreboards will tell if it’s too late.
“To Michigan: I hope you beat Michigan State,” said Ballard. “To Indiana: I hope you beat Purdue. But that’s all you can do.”

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