Gophers softball sweeps Penn State

Michael Rand

When car keys get lost, nine times out of 10 the place they turn up is obvious — a jacket pocket, a table or even a car door. But sometimes they end up somewhere obscure, like the refrigerator.
The Gophers softball team found that out Sunday afternoon against Penn State at the Bierman Softball Complex. After exhausting almost every option, a rather unusual method enabled the Gophers (30-9, 5-3 in the Big Ten) to pull out a 4-3 win to earn a much-needed sweep of their three-game series against the Lions (20-18, 1-10).
When Jennifer Fox stepped up to the plate with two outs and a runner on second in the bottom of the seventh, all she was trying to do was the logical thing — hit a line drive or a hard ground ball through the infield to break 3-3 tie and give the Gophers the victory. But logic was not on the team’s side, as was proven by the first six innings.
So maybe it was best that Fox didn’t shoot a ground ball up the middle. It might have struck a pebble and caromed directly to a Lions infielder. Contrary to her plan, the senior smacked a high fly ball to center field.
“All I needed to do was hit it through the infield,” Fox said. “I didn’t do that, but I was happy, of course. I was just doing my job.”
Penn State outfielder Jodie Ricciardi looked like she was going to make a running catch, but the ball popped out of her glove and fell to the ground as she neared the base of the wall.
Shannon Beeler scored easily from second on the play, which was ruled a double, bringing the Gophers a happy conclusion to a game coach Lisa Bernstein-O’Brien called “frustrating.”
“I don’t know how many runners we left on base, but I do know it was too many,” she said. “It was nice to get some luck on our side.”
Minnesota had already tried the conventional methods: More baserunners equals more runs than the opponent, and therefore a win. That approach backfired, however, when the Gophers stranded eight baserunners in the first six innings.
The Gophers turned to demands: As Steph Midthun came to bat with two outs, a runner on second base and the score tied 2-2 in the fourth inning, teammate Renee Sbrocco looked at her and ordered, “You hit that runner in.” Midthun popped out to the shortstop.
After the team took a 3-2 lead on Amber Hegland’s RBI single in the fifth inning, the Gophers tried to secure the lead with pitching. Jennifer Johnson dominated Lions’ hitters like she had all weekend. But her errant throw over first baseman Jodi Halvorson’s head with two outs in the sixth inning allowed Penn State to score the tying run.
“I was so surprised that I caught it,” Johnson said. “I just released it too early.”
That the game was tied temporarily magnified the Gophers fifth-inning debacle. After going ahead 3-2, Minnesota loaded the bases with no outs but failed to score another run in the inning.
“That was a frustrating inning,” Bernstein-O’Brien said. “We had the people up there we wanted, we just didn’t get it done.”
The game offered a stark contrast to Saturday’s doubleheader, when it seemed the Gophers could do no wrong.
Johnson threw a two-hit shutout as the Gophers won game one 3-0. Rachel Nelson’s two-run single in the fourth inning was the big hit for Minnesota. Steph Klaviter tossed five shutout innings and Johnson came on for the final six outs as Minnesota won the nightcap 7-0.
“This was a great weekend for us,” Johnson said. “We’re just getting going. We don’t feel like we’re going to lose.”

Penn State 000 201 0 — 3 4 1
Gophers 100 110 1 — 4 11 1
Schwab, Hippo (5) and Hackett, Accordino (5); Logue, Johnson (5) and Bartholmey. W — Johnson, 8-5. L — Hippo, 4-3. T — 2:00. A — 358.

Penn State 000 000 0 — 0 2 2
Gophers 010 200 x — 3 5 1
Henick, Schwab (4) and Hackett, Accordino (5); Johnson and Bartholmey. W — Johnson, 7-5. L — Henick, 3-3. T — 1:50. A — 340.

Gophers 102 000 4 — 7 11 2
Penn State 000 000 0 — 0 5 1
Klaviter, Johnson (6) and Bartholmey; Kalp, Hippo (7) and Shebest. W — Klaviter, 13-3. L — Kalp, 8-6. S — Johnson, 6. T — 2:10. A — 340.

Gophers hitting statistics (3 games)
Nelson 11 3 5 2
Peters 8 2 4 2
Hegland 9 0 5 4
Beeler 9 1 3 0
Sbrocco 10 2 2 1
Fox 10 0 2 2
Bartholmey 8 0 3 1
Halvorson 6 0 0 0
Midthun 8 2 3 0
Ballard 2 0 0 0
Carrey 1 0 0 0
Brophy 1 0 0 0
Espinosa 1 0 0 0
Bennett 0 2 0 0
Schwartz 0 2 0 0
Totals 84 14 27 12