In search of a rare sweep, one game at a time

Michigan St. seems like the team to end a 2-year sweep drought against, but the Gophers refuse to think that far ahead.

by Jesse Mandell-McClinton

This may be the weekend that the Gophers break their two-year streak, find a way to put together back-to-back solid games at home and finally sweep a Big Ten series. They even have lowly Michigan State to face, a team with only one road win in conference this year.

But donâÄôt speak a word of this to head coach Jessica Allister.

âÄúAnybody can beat anybody on any given day,âÄù Allister shot in at the mention of a possible sweep. âÄúIâÄôm not going to say that weâÄôre more likely to get a sweep from [Michigan State] than anybody else.âÄù

The game-by-game approach Allister employs has shown up in the teamâÄôs results, as Minnesota has lost three games in a row only once since the seasonâÄôs first tournament. It has won three or more in a row four times.

None of those winning streaks have come in Big Ten play, however. While the Gophers havenâÄôt found that elusive series sweep since March 22, 2009, against Indiana, they have made plenty of strides in the right direction this year to reach 27 wins in AllisterâÄôs first season.

The teamâÄôs offensive woes have been well-documented this season, but the trend isnâÄôt team-wide. The player of the year offensively thus far has unquestionably been senior first baseman Malisa Barnes, whose .439 average is fourth-best in the Big Ten.

Barnes had been a reliable player for the Gophers throughout her four seasons but came into this year hitting .322 on her career, more than 110 points below this yearâÄôs output.  

Though she believes the teamâÄôs wins and the programâÄôs future are headed in the right direction, Barnes doesnâÄôt feel MinnesotaâÄôs 5-7 Big Ten record is necessarily representative of its potential.

âÄúThe most frustrating part is knowing that weâÄôre more than capable of [a sweep],âÄù Barnes said.

Michigan State is second to last in the Big Ten this year with a conference record of 3-9. While this is encouraging to the GophersâÄô chances this weekend, keep in mind that they were swept by last place Ohio State earlier this year at home, the BuckeyesâÄô only two wins this season.

The forecast is again calling for rain and cooler temperatures for the pair of games at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium. The sun may peek out on Sunday, a bonus for the Gophers, who have played in mostly dismal conditions at home this year. However the skies shake out, the focus, as always, will remain on the next game for Allister and the Gophers.

âÄúWeâÄôre going to try to win the first one first,âÄù she said about MinnesotaâÄôs chances at a sweep. âÄúThatâÄôs the only way to put ourselves in that position. WeâÄôll worry about game two after.âÄù