U softball sweeps Buckeyes

by Michael Rand

Normally, when a member of the Gophers softball team scores a run, several players leap out of the dugout to offer congratulations at home plate.
But the nature of the team’s celebration in the second inning of Minnesota’s series opener against Ohio State on Saturday at the Bierman Softball Complex suggested that more than just a pair of runs were at stake.
The dugout emptied and then Renee Sbrocco and Jennifer Fox, who both crossed the plate, became swallowed in a mass of maroon, gold and white. A few players skipped halfway down the first base line and shouted congratulations to Jodi Halvorson for her two-run single. Halvorson’s teammates probably would have scampered all the way down the line and tackled her if the game had been over.
Of course, it was still the second inning — not normally a time for mass celebration. For a team struggling to produce clutch hits, however, Halvorson’s bases-loaded single finally gave everyone a chance to take a relaxed breath.
A sweep of the three-game series — 6-3 and 4-1 on Saturday and 3-0 on Sunday — was the result of what Halvorson started. The Gophers offense wasn’t spectacular for the duration of the weekend, but it did produce enough key hits to make players and coaches feel like the team is snapping out of its mid-season batting slump.
“That was exciting,” Gophers coach Lisa Bernstein-O’Brien said. “We got some clutch hits. Jodi broke out. Dana Ballard had a nice hit. Rachel (Nelson) drove one down the line. It was nice to see.”
Another item Bernstein-O’Brien won’t mind seeing is the results from the rest of the Big Ten this weekend. While the Gophers improved to 9-9 in the conference, Indiana, which entered Saturday’s play in fourth place, fell to 9-10 after being swept by Michigan. Purdue (11-8) swept Northwestern (8-10), meaning Minnesota is now in fifth place in the Big Ten.
The top four regular season finishers qualify for the conference tournament. Minnesota and Purdue each have five Big Ten games left — with the final three coming next weekend in a showdown between the two teams in West Lafayette, Ind. That series will likely determine which team goes to the post-season.
The Gophers didn’t dominate Ohio State (18-26, 3-14 in the Big Ten), but at the same time, the outcome of the games was rarely in doubt. The biggest threat the Buckeyes mounted came in game one, when they rallied for three runs in the sixth inning to shrink Minnesota’s lead to 4-3.
Halvorson, who entered the series batting .224, killed Ohio State’s comeback attempt with a two-run double in the bottom of the sixth.
“We had a good practice on Friday, and I think that helped,” Halvorson said. “I know I felt more comfortable. That first one felt good. It had been a while since I got one.”
The combination of strong pitching and clutch hitting held up for the rest of the series as well.
Steph Klaviter retired the first 16 batters she faced in game two before surrendering an infield single. In game three, Wendy Logue and Jennifer Johnson combined on a three-hit shutout. In the mean time, Minnesota got run-scoring hits from Halvorson, Rachel Nelson, Dana Ballard, Amber Hegland and Jennifer Fox to account for its runs.
Klaviter said that made the pitchers’ jobs easier. In Minnesota’s previous seven games, the offense had only generated nine runs, which meant that one mistake by the pitchers could be insurmountable.
“Not scoring runs was probably more frustrating for them as hitters than it was for the pitchers,” Klaviter said. “But it’s a lot easier to pitch when the offense is scoring runs.”
Bernstein-O’Brien added, “Good pitching, good defense and timely hits; that’s the key to winning.”
For the first time in two weeks, the Gophers got all three.

Ohio State 000 003 0 — 3 5 1
Gophers 020 022 x — 6 8 1
OSU — Robinson, Tom (6) and Chenevey; Min — Johnson and Bartholmey. W — Johnson, 9-8. L — Robinson, 7-9. S — Johnson, 7. HR — Chenevey. T — 1:50. A — 647.

Gophers 000 040 0 — 4 4 0
Ohio State 000 000 1 — 1 5 1
Min — Klaviter, Johnson (7) and Bartholmey; OSU — Dolan and Chenevey. W — Klaviter, 14-3. L — Dolan, 6-11. T — 1:35. A — 647.

Ohio State 000 000 0 — 0 3 1
Gophers 001 002 x — 3 6 1
OSU — Tom and Chenevey; Min — Logue, Johnson (5) and Bartholmey. W — Logue, 11-4. L — Tom, 5-6. S — Johnson, 8. T — 2:30. A — 576.

Gophers hitting statistics (3 games)
Nelson 9 2 1 1
Peters 6 0 1 0
Hegland 7 1 5 1
Beeler 8 0 2 1
Sbrocco 7 3 1 0
Fox 7 1 1 2
Bartholmey7 0 1 0
Halvorson 9 0 4 5
Midthun 3 2 1 0
Ballard 2 0 1 1
Brophy 1 0 0 0
Carey 0 0 0 1
Bennett 0 2 0 0
Severson 0 2 0 0
Totals 66 13 18 12