Gophers must win last five games to get into tourney

by Michael Rand

Despite losing six of seven games during the middle of the season, the Gophers softball team still controls its own destiny as far as making the Big Ten tournament is concerned.
Only the top four regular season finishers advance to the conference tournament, but Minnesota, currently in fifth place, can assure itself of a fourth-place finish by winning each of its remaining five games.
A likely scenario: The Gophers (34-15, 9-9 in the Big Ten) sweep a doubleheader at eighth-place Wisconsin today while fourth-place Purdue sweeps Ohio State (3-14 conference record). Given that, Purdue would maintain its 1 1/2 game lead over Minnesota going into the final weekend, when the two teams meet in West Lafayette, Ind.
The Gophers would need to sweep the series to finish ahead of Purdue, whereas the Boilermakers would only need to win one of the three games to land a spot in the tournament. Still, it gives the Gophers more hope than they had going into the weekend. It also increases the importance of today’s doubleheader with the Badgers.
“Every game is critical at this point,” Gophers coach Lisa Bernstein-O’Brien said.
Slap hitters still struggling
Although the Gophers scored 13 runs in three games against Ohio State during the weekend after scoring just nine runs in their previous seven games, the offense still hasn’t cured all its ills.
Minnesota’s fleet-footed trio of No. 9 hitter Steph Midthun, leadoff hitter Rachel Nelson and No. 2 hitter Laura Peters — who set the table for the rest of the offense by getting on base — are a combined 7-for-57 (.122) in their last eight games with a total of six runs scored.
“We need to get the slappers back on track and have them keep plugging away,” Bernstein-O’Brien said.
Five innings of dominance
Gophers pitchers Steph Klaviter and Jennifer Johnson both carried no-hitters into the sixth inning of games this weekend, only to see them abruptly end.
Johnson surrendered a lead-off single in the sixth inning of game two and went on to allow three runs and four hits in the frame. Klaviter, who was working on a perfect game through 5 1/3 innings of game three, allowed two hits in the sixth and three more in the seventh before giving way to Johnson.
Klaviter, maybe taking a cue from Johnson’s struggles to finish off game two, said she wasn’t even thinking about perfection.
“I wasn’t thinking about it at all,” she said. “I just wanted to finish the game, to tell the truth.”
The combined line of Minnesota pitchers for the first five innings of each game: 15 innings, two hits, no runs, no walks, 13 strikeouts. The last two innings: six innings, 11 hits, four runs.
Hegland’s up and on deck
The Gophers were caught in a rare gaffe in game one on Saturday when they batted out of order. Amber Hegland and Shannon Beeler, who normally bat third and fourth in the order respectively, were switched on the line-up card.
When Hegland came up to bat in her customary three spot, she was hitting in Beeler’s spot. After Hegland drew a walk, Ohio State coach Linda Kalafatis alertly pointed out to the umpires that Minnesota had batted out of turn, resulting in an automatic out, the third of the inning.
The bizarre part was that Hegland, after drawing the walk in the first inning, led off the second inning in the correct spot in the batting order. She singled in that at-bat.
Extra innings
ù Beeler, who sprained her left hand on Wednesday against Iowa, started all three games this weekend and went 2-for-8 with an RBI.
ù The 647 fans at Saturday’s doubleheader were the second-most ever at the Bierman Softball Complex.