Beeler keys softball wins

Michael Dougherty

The concept of being in “a zone” is not well defined in sports. It is often talked about, but it is impossible to unravel, even for athletes who reach it. Perhaps it is best described as a surreal place where a person is at the best performance level he or she has ever been.
Shannon Beeler, the shortstop for the 18th-ranked Gophers softball team, is in a zone like this.
The junior from Shelton, Wash., was 4-for-7 with four walks, a homer and four RBIs in Minnesota’s three-game home sweep over Purdue this weekend. In Sunday’s finale against the Boilermakers, Beeler delivered the game-winning hit in the bottom of the seventh inning when she drove in Laura Peters with a line-drive single to left.
“I’m hitting the ball hard, and I have no fear,” Beeler said. “I’m just getting the job done, I guess.”
The Gophers’ sweep improved their record to 31-8, 5-1 in the Big Ten. They have won 17 of their last 18, and head coach Lisa Bernstein-O’Brien credits their recent success to moving Amber Hegland from the No. 3 to the No. 5 spot in the order so teams can’t pitch around Beeler.
The offense, however, didn’t kick in right away in Sunday’s series finale. Purdue (19-18, 1-5) jumped out to a 2-0 lead with a run in the second and a run in the fourth. Meanwhile, Boilermakers pitcher Sheryl Sheve was holding the Gophers to four hits and two walks over the first five innings, as the Gophers were plagued by stranding runners in scoring position.
“I was getting a little bothered — not concerned, but bothered — that we weren’t getting runs across the plate,” Bernstein-O’Brien said.
However, Minnesota finally figured Sheve out as it rallied for two runs in the bottom of the sixth. After Beeler grounded out to short to lead off the inning, third baseman Hegland singled sharply to left.
Catcher Erin Brophy then doubled to the right-centerfield gap to drive in Hegland. Brophy moved to third on a throwing error on the catcher, and the Gophers were 60 feet away from a tie.
Amy Hafemeyer entered the game as a pinch runner for Brophy, and after first baseman Dana Ballard grounded out to third, Lara Syverson singled to center to drive in Hafemeyer with the tying run.
After Wendy Logue retired the Boilermakers in the top of the seventh, the scene was set for a dramatic finish.
Laura Peters led off the inning with a line shot to the shortstop, but shortstop Laura Bottino’s throw pulled first baseman Kristin Billen’s foot off the base and Peters was safe.
Left fielder Morgan Holden moved Peters to second with a sacrifice bunt, and Beeler came through with her dramatic hit.
Beeler now has 48 RBIs for the season, and with 29 regular season games left has a good chance to break her own team record of 62 RBIs in a season set in 1996.
Beeler, who hit a home run in the first game of the series to run her streak of home runs in Big Ten games to four, said she thinks this is the best she’s ever been hitting.
With Beeler anchoring an impressive batting order, the pitchers are holding their own as well. Logue took the win in each of the last two games to run her winning streak to 12 games, and Steph Klaviter scattered five hits over seven innings in the first game to improve her record to 10-5.
“Logue is moving the ball in and out and she’s really got her off-speed stuff working,” Bernstein-O’Brien said. “They’re a good pair. Klaviter comes in and throws the ball real hard, then Wendy can come in and mix the speeds up. They are a great combination right now and are working well together.”
In the second game of the doubleheader on Saturday, the Gophers scored three in the top of the first, en route to an easy 8-1 win.
Logue creatively scattered 11 Purdue hits over seven innings. The lone Boilermaker run was scored when Billen took a Logue offering over the left field wall in the bottom of the sixth.
Bernstein-O’Brien was impressed with how her squad was able to hold Purdue to one run despite all the hits.
“We’re keeping a lot of baserunners stranded at third base,” she said. “No one is scoring from 60 feet away, and I’m real proud of that.”
In the first game, with Klaviter pitching well and Beeler hitting the ball out of the park, Minnesota faced a 1-1 tie as they came to bat in the bottom of the sixth.
Syverson’s two-run single, along with three walks, led to four runs, which put the game out of reach.
Minnesota returns to action with a home doubleheader against Northwestern on Wednesday, and a three-game series with first-place Michigan next weekend.