Down season to close with three contests at home

Minnesota will host three games against South Dakota State at Cowles Stadium.

Emily Wickstrom

Minnesota’s softball team has one last chance to end the 2006 season on a positive note.

The Gophers (15-32 overall, 1-17 Big Ten) will face South Dakota State at 2 p.m. Saturday and again Sunday in a doubleheader beginning at noon. All games will be played at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium.

While eight Big Ten teams will move on to next week’s conference tournament, Minnesota’s season already will be over.

Sunday’s games also will mark the last ever for Gophers seniors Valerie Alston, Lindsey Erickson and Stefanie Watt.

Although the games will be meaningless in terms of postseason implications, Minnesota co-coach Lisa Bernstein said that the Gophers are still competing.

“The season hasn’t ended the way we wanted it to,” Bernstein said. “We wanted to be playing at the Big Ten Tournament. But if you’re a true athlete, you come out to compete every single day. We’ve got three ballgames that can kind of propel us toward next season.”

The Jackrabbits’ 23-34 record or .220 team batting average might not seem imposing.

But South Dakota State beat Wisconsin in March, and went 1-4 this season against North Dakota State.

Minnesota struggled against the Bison on Wednesday, losing 1-0 before pulling out a 9-7 come-from-behind win in game two.

“They’re a good team,” junior catcher Megan Higginbotham said of North Dakota State. “But we should have went out there and swept them.”

The game one loss was the first time Minnesota had ever lost to the Bison but an indication of how the season has gone.

The Gophers’ last-place finish in the Big Ten, junior Katie Meyer said, is because of the team’s mentality at the beginning of the season.

“On paper, people would say it’s supposed to be a building year,” Meyer said. “But we wanted to come out and make an impact right away and that was always the approach Ö we know that we have that potential. We’ve got the talent.”

Some of Minnesota’s struggles have been out of its control.

When junior third baseman Lisa Parks went down with an injury, junior Mandy Valadez was called on to step in.

Before this year, Valadez has been used primarily as a relief pitcher, and is hitless in 26 at-bats.

“That’s the way the team is this year,” Meyer said. “We can roll with the punches and go with whatever we’ve got.”

Higginbotham agreed that the Gophers have been able to keep their spirits up even while on a losing streak.

“This team definitely has a fight no matter what’s going on,” Higginbotham said. “No matter our record or anything we come out here to play to win.”

Bernstein said the games, although still important, could play into what happens next season.

“We’re going to give some younger kids some opportunities, but then get after it and try to make good things happen in Minnesota softball,” Bernstein said.