U to take hitting woes out on Iowa

Michael Rand

Gophers softball coaches and players pride themselves on being able to stay loose and focused at the same time, no matter if the club is playing well or not.
The juxtaposition that defines the team was prevalent on Tuesday afternoon as players prepared for today’s critical home doubleheader against Iowa.
Third baseman Amber Hegland and several of her teammates took vicious swings in the batting cage, often times punctuating a cut by releasing a shout. The Gophers have scored just seven runs in their last five games — four of them losses — and their determination to turn things around is evident.
At the same time, pitcher Jenny Bauer and second baseman Laura Peters exhibited some determination of their own. While shagging softballs during live batting practice, both of them succeeded in rolling balls through the infield and knocking over associate coach Julie Standering’s can of pop.
The Gophers will do anything to keep the mood light. At the same time, however, they know the easiest way to do that against Iowa (36-5, 12-0 in the Big Ten) is to gain an early lead. The exploits of Bauer and Peters were impressive, but the players in the cage hold the ultimate key against the Hawkeyes.
Hegland said it all starts with aggressiveness.
“We’re going to get our hitting back on track for tomorrow. We’re going to come out attacking the ball,” she said. “We’ll probably be swinging at some pitches that shouldn’t be swung at. We’ve let some pitches go that have been strikes, and then we end up swinging at pitchers’ pitches instead of hitters’ pitches.”
Center fielder Rachel Nelson added, “We’ve been really passive at the plate. When we do hit the ball, it hasn’t been falling for us.”
Not surprisingly, hitting — or a lack thereof — has been the predominant thought on coach Lisa Bernstein-O’Brien’s mind lately.
The Gophers were an abysmal 9-for-73 at the plate in being swept in a three-game series last weekend against Michigan. In the seventh inning of game three, a 1-0 loss, Minnesota loaded the bases with no outs but couldn’t push a run across. A lack of clutch hits was a problem all weekend.
“We have to get everyone wanting to be up there in key situations,” Bernstein-O’Brien said.
She stressed her point by meeting with several hitters during the middle of Tuesday’s practice.
“Usually she leaves it up to us to come to her if we think we’re off track,” Hegland said. “There will be times she feels we need to be talked to when we’re not coming to her, so we can regroup and refocus. This was one of those times.”
Focus is particularly critical at this point in the season for the Gophers (31-13, 6-7 in the Big Ten). Because only four teams make the conference tournament, another week of silent bats could leave Minnesota on the outside looking in.
“We’re ready to play Iowa,” Nelson said. “We’re ready to play these last 10 games so we can get in the top four, because we want to keep going. All we need to do is win our games and we’ll be fine.”