Comeback effort falls short twice

The Gophers couldn’t close the gap in either of this weekend’s one-run losses.

by Marco LaNave

It couldnâÄôt get much closer for the GophersâÄô softball team. Seventh-inning rallies fell short in each of the GophersâÄô 2-1 and 7-6 losses at Michigan State this weekend. Minnesota (15-23, 1-3 Big Ten), which has now lost nine games by just one run this season, stranded 10 runners on base in the sixth and seventh innings of the two games combined. âÄúWe had chances in both games,âÄù co-head coach Lisa Bernstein said. âÄúTheyâÄôre doing everything except being able to push one extra run across.âÄù Freshman Lacey Middlebrooks pitched two complete games, but suffered her seventh and eighth one-run defeats to drop to 15-12 this season. Junior first baseman Malisa Barnes had four hits, and twice brought the Gophers within one run in the final inning of each game. âÄúThatâÄôs Big Ten softball; itâÄôs a dog fight,âÄù Bernstein said. âÄúThe kids played hard. They left it all out on the field.âÄù Saturday: Michigan State 2, Minnesota 1 Barnes and junior designated player Whitney Erickson each had two of the MinnesotaâÄôs six hits in the final three innings, but it wasnâÄôt enough to overcome an early pair of unearned runs by Michigan State. âÄúYou definitely look at situations where you think that you could have stepped up,âÄù sophomore second baseman Sammie Howard said. âÄú[But] thereâÄôs nothing we can do about it now.âÄù Spartans left fielder Karen Fox led off the bottom of the third with a single. Then an error by Middlebrooks and two passed balls by freshman catcher Kari Dorle helped Michigan State take a 2-0 lead. Spartans pitcher Lauren Kramer retired the first 14 Minnesota batters and allowed just one hit the first two times through the Minnesota order. But the Gophers loaded the bases in the sixth inning with a pair of two-out singles by Barnes and senior right fielder Abby Rehberger and a walk to freshman third baseman Alex Davis. But senior left fielder Heidi Carls struck out to end the threat. The Gophers again loaded the bases with one out in the seventh. After Howard grounded into a fielderâÄôs choice, Barnes brought home a run with a single. With the tying run at third, Rehberger hit a grounder to Spartans shortstop Lindsey Hansen, who tagged out Howard to end the game. Sunday: Michigan State 7, Minnesota 6 After Barnes closed the GophersâÄô deficit to one on a seventh-inning home run, the Gophers had the tying run at second base with one out in the seventh, but they couldnâÄôt complete a comeback from a six-run deficit in the final two innings. âÄúThe energy on the bench was incredible, and the hits were contagious,âÄù Howard said. âÄúWe had a lot of heart, butâĦwe got our bats going a little too late.âÄù Minnesota took a first-inning lead on back-to-back doubles by Rehberger and Davis, but Kramer retired the next 14 Gophers batters. Meanwhile, the Spartans (16-17, 2-2) had 12 hits against Middlebrooks and scored three runs each in the third and fifth to take a 7-1 lead. The Gophers scored three runs in a five-hit sixth against Kramer, who was replaced by Kelly Confer after Dorle led off the seventh with a double. HowardâÄôs RBI groundout made it 7-5, and Barnes followed her with a solo homer. Rehberger then reached second base on an error, and the Spartans put Kramer back on the mound. After walking Davis, Kramer struck out Middlebrooks and got Erickson to ground out to third for a fielderâÄôs choice and the gameâÄôs final out. âÄúYou canâÄôt really teach experience,âÄù Bernstein said. âÄúThis will pay off. WeâÄôre not sure exactly when that will be, but I guarantee you that all of the stuff that these younger kids are going through will pay off during their careers, no doubt.âÄù