Powerful Fresno St. lineup awaits U

by Michael Dougherty

Fresno State has been in the news quite a bit this year, thanks in large part to a bizarre samurai sword assault perpetrated by some members of its men’s basketball team.
But Fresno State is getting some favorable publicity this week, thanks to its third-ranked softball team.
The 22nd-ranked Gophers softball team received one of 32 bids to the NCAA Tournament and will play the Bulldogs on Friday night in Fresno, Calif.
Although Bulldogs softball players like to assault things with weapons, they prefer beating up opposing pitching with aluminum bats instead of warrior swords.
Fresno State (45-10) hits .343 as a team and has quite an impressive tournament history. The NCAA bid marks the 17th straight year the Bulldogs have made the tournament and the 14th time they have hosted a regional.
Minnesota, meanwhile, will be making its fourth appearance in the tournament and second in head coach Lisa Bernstein-O’Brien’s seven-year tenure.
“They’ll be comparable to Michigan,” Bernstein-O’Brien said. “They’ll have women that can hit the ball through the whole lineup, and they play good defense.”
Those hitters include senior slugger Nina Lindenberg, who is batting .459 with 11 home runs and 69 RBIs.
Sophomore All-American pitcher Amanda Scott, who has a 20-3 record and a 1.20 ERA, leads the team in home runs with 13 and is second with 65 RBIs.
Fresno State coach Margie Wright also has some intimidating credentials. She is third all-time with 770 wins, which span an 18-year career (five at Illinois State and 13 at Fresno State).
The Gophers will play Fresno State at 9:30 p.m. Friday at Bulldog Stadium, a venue which regularly has crowds of more than 6,000.
“If we walk in there intimidated, it will not be pretty,” Bernstein-O’Brien said. “But if we walk in there and know what to expect, we’ll have nothing to lose.”
Pearle Vision
Gophers first baseman Dana Ballard had an interesting first game against Michigan in this weekend’s Big Ten tournament.
In the first inning, the sophomore from Oak Park, Ill., made an diving catch of a line drive off the bat of Michigan’s Melissa Gentile. Ballard then threw out Traci Conrad for a double play.
Then in the Gophers’ half of the second, and with Shannon Beeler on second, Ballard hit a ball to the shortstop and beat out the throw with a clumsy head-first dive into first.
Ballard then made a nice stretch at first to turn a double-play in the bottom of the second.
“Dana had a wonderful day,” Bernstein-O’Brien said. “She made some excellent plays at first, and she had her Pearle Vision.”
When asked to reveal what the phrase ‘Pearle Vision’ means, Bernstein-O’Brien said, “Let’s just say she plays better with her contacts in.”
Pool in the outfield?
Gophers women’s athletics director Chris Voelz on Sunday unveiled the new designs for the refurbished Bierman Softball Complex.
The facility will include an attached seating area for up to 1,000 fans and some seats with backs and cup holders.
There will also be a three-tiered press box, indoor concession stands, an interview/cool-down room, locker rooms for the home and visiting teams, a picnic area above the seats for special guests and sunken bullpens that can be seen from the dugouts.
The $2 million renovation is being funded equally by the state Legislature and a Gophers softball booster.
An official from the women’s athletics department said the University will not announce the donor for a week or two because some details, including the possibility of naming the stadium after the donor, still need to be worked out.
Sources close to the team said the likely source of the matching donation is the Cowles family.
John Cowles III, who goes by Jay, and his sister Jane Sage Cowles, are backers of the Women’s Professional Fastpitch softball league, which is centered in Denver. John Cowles Jr. is a member of the On-Deck Circle, the Gophers softball booster club.
The Cowles family, which started the Cowles Media Co., owned the Star Tribune until it was sold to The McClatchy Co. in a $1.4 billion deal in November.