Minnesota’s weekend ends in disappointment

Mark Heise

After starting the weekend on a bright note, the Minnesota softball team ended up facing some disappointment, losing three of four games against Michigan and Michigan State this weekend.

The Gophers (21-20 overall, 3-7 Big Ten) looked like they had taken a big step toward contending for a Big Ten tournament spot Friday, upsetting ninth-ranked Michigan 2-0, but fell 4-2 to the Wolverines Saturday.

Minnesota followed that up with a pair of losses to Michigan State Sunday, 4-3 and 5-2.

“We played our game this weekend, but things just didn’t go our way,” senior Lisa Parks said. “We were missing a hit here or there, or just bad luck with a ball dropping in, and it’s put us in a tough spot.”

Sophomore pitcher Briana Hassett shut down Michigan (40-9, 11-3) Friday night, picking up a seven-inning shutout to extend her streak to 20 innings without allowing a run.

Wolverines senior pitcher Lorilyn Wilson recorded the first 13 outs thanks to strikeouts, but the Gophers were able to break out in the fifth inning with help from two Michigan errors.

Sophomore Shannon Stemper led off the inning with a single, and junior Chrissy Sward knocked home the first run on a fielder’s choice.

With the bases loaded later in the inning, sophomore Colleen Conway reached on an error, scoring Minnesota’s second run of the game.

That was all Hassett needed, giving up just two hits to win against the top offensive team in the conference.

“The kids came out and played well,” coach Lisa Bernstein said. “We put some runs on the board, Briana pitched well, and we held them off. I’m very proud of their performance.”

The Gophers played well again Saturday, but couldn’t quite pull off the sweep. The Wolverines put up four runs in three-plus innings against sophomore Katie Dalen, taking a 4-0 lead after four innings.

Senior third baseman Mandy Valadez hit a two-run home run in the sixth inning, but it was all Minnesota could muster before falling to Michigan.

Ranked below the Gophers coming into Sunday’s matchup, Michigan State was in need of wins just as much as Minnesota.

The Spartans (29-24, 5-8) grabbed a pair of runs against Hassett early, but the Gophers quickly erased that lead. Parks homered in the fourth inning, and doubled home a run in the sixth. Valadez hit an RBI triple, and Minnesota held a 3-2 lead going into the bottom of the seventh.

Michigan State took advantage of two walks in the final inning, pushing across a pair of runs to pull out the come from behind win, 4-3.

In the second half of the doubleheader, the Spartans continued to put up runs, scoring in the first, third and sixth innings to build a 5-1 lead.

The Gophers scored one in the second on a single by senior Casey Wheeler and another in the seventh, as senior Katie Meyer picked up an RBI single.

But that was all Minnesota scored, losing another important conference game to go 1-3 over the weekend, putting the Gophers two games behind the Spartans for the final conference tournament spot, with just two conference games remaining.

Regardless, Valadez said the team will continue to fight for a postseason berth.

“We’re ready for the challenge,” she said. “We’re ready to do what we have to do to get to postseason play.”