U will likely be left out of NCAAs

by Michael Rand

Gophers softball coach Lisa Bernstein-O’Brien figured her team would have a chance to play its way into an NCAA tournament bid. But since Minnesota finished tied for sixth in the Big Ten and missed the conference tournament, she’s been reduced to sounding like a meteorologist when discussing her team’s chances of making it to nationals.
“I’d say there’s about a 30 percent chance we’ll get in,” Bernstein-O’Brien said.
Speculation is all she and her team have right now as they await the Sunday’s announcement of the 32-team NCAA field. Bernstein-O’Brien is hoping Minnesota’s overall record (37-19) will be enough to offset its 10-13 showing in the conference. No Big Ten team has ever qualified for NCAAs without playing in the conference tournament.
The Gophers went 44-18 last season with a 17-6 finish (second place) in the Big Ten and went to the NCAAs for the first time since 1991. With most of their starting lineup and pitching staff returning, it appeared that the team would have a similar, if not better, season this year.
“This is not where I thought we would be at this point in the season,” Bernstein-O’Brien said. “We can compete with anybody when we’re firing on all cylinders. We just haven’t gotten it done.”
One-run funk
If the Gophers fail to get an NCAA regional bid, one of the main reasons will be their performance in one-run games.
Minnesota went 6-9 in one-run games overall, including a devastating 2-7 in Big Ten play. The Gophers’ only one-run wins in the conference were a 1-0 win over Northwestern and a 4-3 decision against Penn State. The close and often agonizing losses included:
ù A 4-3 loss at Northwestern in which the Wildcats had only two hits — both home runs.
ù A pair of losses, both 1-0, against Michigan and Iowa in which the Gophers had bases-loaded, no-out situations in the late innings and couldn’t score a run.
ù A 3-2 loss at Wisconsin in which Gophers pitcher Jennifer Johnson had a no-hitter through six innings, only to give up consecutive singles and a three-run homer in the seventh.
ù Appropriately, Sunday’s regular season finale at Purdue also ended in heartbreak. The Gophers, already out of the hunt for a berth in the Big Ten tournament, lost 3-2 when the Boilermakers rallied for two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning.
Reason No. 2
Had the Gophers offense performed like it did last year, however, the team may not have even been in so many close games.
After scoring 108 runs in 23 Big Ten games last year, Minnesota produced just 71 runs in the same number of games this season. The Gophers’ overall batting average of .290 was 39 points lower than last year’s mark.
“There are a lot of kids that contributed more last year,” Bernstein-O’Brien said. “There’s no doubt that we wouldn’t have lost so many close ball games. Most of these games, we were just a hit away from winning.”