Streaking softball team to face tough weekend games

by Michael Dougherty

After reeling off nine straight wins with a doubleheader sweep of North Carolina and a 7-0 romp through the Triangle Classic in Raleigh-Durham, N.C., the Gophers women’s softball team heads to Columbus, Ga. for this weekend’s National Fastpitch Coaches Association Leadoff Classic.
The championship at the Triangle Classic was the second straight for the 12-3 Gophers, as they outscored their seven opponents 37-6.
Thinking about the tournament sweep caused coach Lisa Bernstein-O’Brien to grin and then rattle off a grocery list of positives.
“We played together really well,” Bernstein-O’Brien said. “Our pitching was good, we hit the ball a ton, we scored a lot of runs and our defense played really well together.”
Bernstein-O’Brien talks a lot about a club that, despite the loss of All-American Rachel Nelson, national saves leader Jennifer Johnson and four-year starting catcher Ann Bartholmey to graduation, has reloaded with freshmen such as pitcher Rayny Camacho and infielder Angel Braden.
Camacho has gone 4-1 so far this season, with a team-high 11 strikeouts against Maryland-Baltimore County in a 2-1 complete-game victory. Camacho’s season to date — which includes 21 strikeouts and only three walks — has gone above even lofty expectations.
“Having watched her play we knew she would come in and be able to get the strikeouts,” Bernstein-O’Brien. “I think she has showed a lot of poise, confidence and maturity — a little bit more than you think a frosh walking in here could.”
While Camacho has been mowing down opposing batters with alarming prowess, Braden, a former shortstop, has made the conversion to third base with resounding results.
Braden is part of the “Killer B’s” dinger club, as she, shortstop Shannon Beeler and catcher Erin Brophy belted out six homers during their trip to North Carolina.
“We’re hitting for more power right now,” Bernstein-O’Brien said. “I think the six home runs we hit this year are probably more than we hit all of last year.”
In actuality, the Gophers hit 13 round-trippers last season, with school career leader Beeler hitting six of those. Beeler was the talk of the tournament as she rocked one of her three homers on the weekend a whopping 275-feet.
Meanwhile, Brophy, a junior who is replacing a catcher who had started 235 straight games in Bartholmey, used the Triangle Classic as a coming-out party, hitting the first two home runs of her career.
The team will need to continue that kind of success at the plate this weekend at the Leadoff Classic.
Of the 20 teams in the tournament, 10 were ranked in the top 25 in the preseason polls. The Gophers open the tourney by facing sixth-ranked Oklahoma on Friday afternoon.
But perhaps the most interesting game of the weekend is the Saturday afternoon game when the Gophers face No. 3 Washington.
Former Gophers coach Teresa Wilson (1990-1991) is now the head coach for Washington. In 1991, she was named Big Ten Coach of the Year as she led the Gophers to the conference championship.
Also entering the game with a notable connection to the Huskies is first-year pitching coach Allison Mick. Mick was a player on Washington’s softball team from 1993-96 as she helped lead the Huskies to a second-place finish in the 1996 College Softball World Series.
“I’m excited to go against Washington,” Bernstein-O’Brien said. “I think it is going to be a great challenge, and we need to go out on the field and see where we stack up.”