Softball finds its stride in home sweep

Mark Heller

All of a sudden, the Minnesota softball team can’t lose.
And with the postseason looming, a prolonged win streak couldn’t come at a better time.
Minnesota’s 9-1, 6-3 and 10-0 sweep of Indiana this weekend at the Bierman Softball Stadium gives the Gophers (36-15, 9-5) wins in eight of their last nine games.
“We really saw (Indiana’s) pitching well,” senior Erin Brophy said. “Everything was right there for us and their pitching wasn’t moving that much. It was easy to pick up.”
The Minnesota offense, which had been stagnant in the past couple of series, was revived in a sweep of Wisconsin on Wednesday and explosive this weekend against the Hoosiers (17-32 overall, 3-13 in the Big Ten).
Minnesota used the big inning in a big way in Saturday’s doubleheader. It was a scoreless first game heading into the bottom of the third, when Brophy opened the inning with her fourth home run of the season off Teresa Martinez (8-12).
“Brophy hit the ball great today,” Gophers co-coach Lisa Bernstein said. “She took it deep and got the clutch RBIs.”
Steph Midthun then hit a bunt single and stole second and third base. Tammi Hays walked and stole second, and Shannon Beeler tripled to right to score both runners. An RBI single by Jordanne Nygren made it 4-1.
Beeler’s triple was the 100th extra-base hit of her career.
Indiana got an unearned run off Steph Klaviter (15-7) in the fourth when Klaviter’s throw to first rolled into right field.
But Minnesota exploded again in the bottom of the fourth, scoring five runs on two Hoosiers errors and a two-run single by Beeler. Angel Braden’s single scored Nygren and pushed the score to 9-1.
The eight-run rule ended the game after five innings.
The Gophers got off to another fast start in game two. Midthun led off the game with a base hit and stole second. Hays reached on an error, and a double-steal put Midthun on third and Hays on second. A Beeler sacrifice fly scored Midthun, and Braden’s single drove in Hays for a 2-0 lead.
Indiana tied the score at two in the bottom of the first, getting three singles and a Nygren error off of starter Michelle Harrison. Harrison was done after one-third of an inning, and Bernstein brought in Heather Brown, who got the last two outs of the first to keep the score tied at 2-2.
“We brought Heather in because they were really putting the ball in play against Michelle,” Bernstein said. “(Brown) came in with runners in scoring position to get strikeouts and that’s what she did. She did an excellent job.”
Brophy hit her second home run and fifth of the season in the top of the second off Alison Cooke to push Minnesota back up 3-2. Brooke Monroe hit her fifth home run of the season off Brown in the bottom of the third to tie the game.
Minnesota put the game away with a three-run sixth. Brophy hit an RBI single and Midthun hit a two-run single to center for a 6-3 lead.
“I felt good today,” Brophy said. “It was one of those days. The ball looked like a beach ball to me.”
On Sunday, Minnesota went on another hitting spree, scoring 10 runs on 10 hits — five of which went for extra bases — to win 10-0 in five innings.
A two-run single by Holden gave the Gophers a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the second. Brophy hit her third home run of the series and sixth of the season in the bottom of the third to put Minnesota up 6-0. Beeler added her 10th home run of the season, a two-run shot in the bottom of the fourth to cap the offensive barrage.
Beeler’s two RBIs on Sunday gave her 229 for her career, and moved her up to fifth in NCAA history.
Klaviter went the distance again for Minnesota, throwing her 20th career shutout. She is now in a three-way tie for second in Minnesota history for career shutouts. Klaviter won all three games in the series.
“We all came together,” Braden said. “We just did what needed to be done. It’s all starting to click now and this should help us a lot for the next series.”
The Gophers travel to Northwestern on Wednesday for a doubleheader with the Wildcats.
“We’re hitting the ball throughout the lineup,” Bernstein said. “The kids are confident at the plate, and they’re swinging the bat well. They moved runners today and had people come up in RBI situations. I’m very proud of their effort.”