First outdoor home games excite Gophers

Noah Seligman

The foul lines are painted, the outfield grass is cut and the infield dirt is raked and ready.

Minnesota’s softball team will make its outdoor home debut tonight, playing a double header against Division II Concordia-St. Paul (20-13, 5-3 NSIC) at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium.

“It’s exciting to get a chance to play on our field,” Minnesota senior Andrea Smith said. “Finally, we get to be home.”

The Gophers (24-13, 7-3) have not played a home game in nearly two months, since hosting Wisconsin-Green Bay on Feb. 15 at the Metrodome.

Minnesota has played 22 away games in a row. After being on the road more than Jack Kerouac, donning the home jerseys will be a welcome respite for the Gophers.

Minnesota coach Lisa Bernstein sang the praises of the Gophers’ home park. She said the infield and outfield are well maintained leading to true hops and there are no “sun or scoreboard issues.”

“We love playing at home,” she said. “It’s a great place to play.”

Cross-town shootout

It will be somewhat of a home game for Concordia-St. Paul as well. The Bears have 17 players on their roster, and 14 come from Minnesota.

Last season the two teams split a double header, with both games decided by one run. In one-run games so far this year, the Bears are 6-2 and the Gophers are 13-5.

With a close score, every run has heightened importance. But both teams are trying to find ways to generate runs.

“We have to be able to move the ball well,” Concordia-St. Paul coach Tom Rubbelke said. “We have to stay in control of our offense.”

Minnesota is still looking for any kind of offense early in games. The Gophers have scored 59 of their 109 regulation runs in the last three innings.

Compared to the rest of the Big Ten, the fourth-place Gophers rank in the bottom three in 12 of 15 offensive statistical categories.

But Bernstein is not concerned with numbers, unless they involve wins and losses.

“I’d rather have lower stats and more wins,” she said. “The stats aren’t important as long as we’re playing well.”

The Gophers said they want to be aggressive at the plate, especially early in the game.

“We have to work on manufacturing runs,” Minnesota freshman Tonya Mitchell said. “It’s not always the long ball that wins games.”

In the circle

Rubbelke said the key for his team this year is having success against Minnesota pitcher Piper Marten.

While the Bears will get their shot at the first-team All-Big Ten hurler, the visitors will also get a look at the new faces in the rotation.

Bernstein said the Gophers’ two freshmen pitchers, Rene Konderik and Mandy Valadez, will both have the opportunity to pitch tonight.