Softball team hopes the hits start coming soon

by Michael Rand

An informal poll of Gophers softball players concerning the team’s hitting in the past seven games would likely draw these results: “Unproductive” — 0 votes. “Unproductive is not a strong enough adjective” — 23 votes.”
Minnesota began the month of April by winning its first nine games, and it averaged close to six runs per game during that stretch. Since then, however, Minnesota is 1-6 and has scored a combined nine runs in those games.
Several players thought Wednesday’s doubleheader against Iowa would be the end of the streak, but 4-2 and 1-0 losses only prolonged it. Now they’ll have to hope that the end of the drought at least comes this weekend against Ohio State, while the Gophers (31-15, 6-9 in the Big Ten) still have a chance to position themselves for a spot in the conference tournament.
“We’re definitely not producing like we need to right now,” Gophers third baseman Amber Hegland said. “There’s pressure, but the only pressure we feel is what we put on ourselves.”
The problem of an anemic offense — or more specifically, a failure to produce timely hits with runners on base — is clearly established. The solution, obviously, has been much harder to find.
Hegland offered a theory prior to the Iowa series, claiming coach Lisa Bernstein-O’Brien forgot to bring the team’s bats along on a five-game road trip.
But that tongue-in-cheek explanation can’t account for the Gophers’ nine hits in two home games against the Hawkeyes. Then again, the Gophers aren’t looking for excuses — they’re just looking for hits.
Of the Iowa games, Bernstein-O’Brien said, “We had plenty of opportunities. We played well, we pitched well, we played defense well. We just didn’t get the key hit when we needed it. We weren’t attacking at the plate, one through nine.”
The Gophers can at least expect a decrease in the quality of pitching they face when playing Ohio State this weekend. Minnesota has faced two of the Big Ten’s top pitching staffs — Iowa (No. 1) and Michigan (No. 3) — in the last five games. The Buckeyes carry a team earned run average of 2.89, second worst in the conference. The Gophers have a team ERA of 1.47 and rank second.
Ohio State (18-23, 3-11) hardly makes up for its pitching shortcomings on offense. Despite Minnesota’s recent slump, which has dropped its team batting average to .259 in Big Ten games, the Buckeyes are still lower at .235. No Ohio State player ranks in the top 10 in the league in runs scored, runs batted in or batting average.
But as Gophers players have said throughout this slide, they aren’t concerned about other teams — they’re focusing on their own performance.
“We took a lot more swings, and we hit more balls hard (against Iowa),” Hegland said. “But we have to take the next step.”

Notes: Former Gophers Sarah Maschka (1990-93) and Tabbetha Woody-La Panta (1990-91) will be inducted into the Minnesota Softball Hall of Fame between game one and game two of Saturday’s doubleheader against Ohio State.