Gophers fall short of goals over weekend

Mark Heller

Deep down, somewhere between Saturday’s exhaustion and desperation, was the faint knowledge of what the standings sheet read in the mind of the Gophers softball team.
This weekend’s four games against Indiana and Purdue were, for all intents and purposes, the final chances for this young team. They were chances to continue playing in two weeks. Minnesota (31-26 overall, 4-11 Big Ten) was faced with the daunting task of having must-win games times four. Realistically, the Gophers needed three out of four.
They won that crucial first game Friday, 2-1 in extra innings. But they handed themselves a crushing blow in game two, taking a 3-0 lead through five innings and watching it melt into a 7-4 loss.
A two-game sweep of Purdue (32-25, 5-9) would still keep the Gophers in mathematical competition for the sixth and final spot in the Big Ten tournament. After a split with the Boilermakers, the Gophers have to sweep at Wisconsin next weekend and get lots of help.
Backs are against the wall.
The final score of Saturday’s game was 4-3 in favor of Purdue. The game took four-and-a-half hours to play. It lasted 16 innings, or 2 1/3 regular games, and was the second-longest game played in Minnesota history.
“This is only our sixth season in the Big Ten and I’m pretty sure this is our longest game in history,” Boilermakers coach Carol Bruggeman said. “We used every single person on our team and every pitcher we had.”
Bruggeman also made a reference to “(Minnesota’s) little pitcher.” She was referring to Minnesota freshman Angie Recknor, who faced every batter but one in the game.
Recknor threw 209 pitches.
“That’s the beauty of being young,” said Dennis Recknor, Angie’s father. “I’m sure she’ll be ready to go in 21 hours from now. That’s just her nature.”
Following Saturday’s game, Recknor (25-24) spent three hours in the training room, “making sure everything would be ready to go” Sunday.
“I had a 14-inning game (for Hopkins High School) against Cooper my senior year where I had 21 strikeouts,” Angie said. “But that was a 1-0 win.”
Following the Gophers’ 9-2 win Sunday — in which Recknor threw the first four innings for the win — the team had a banquet. Before that, she had to stay back to get more ice and treatment.
Recknor may have had the most physical pain after four-plus hours of pitching, but for the Gophers’ faithful, a lack of physical pain was compensated with mental and financial pain.
Bill Bennett has been video taping softball games since his daughter, Michelle, started four years ago. The last homestand of her career got a little heavy in the wallet and minds of the parents.
“This is my second tape,” he said in the bottom of the 15th. “I have a couple more as extras, but they have games on them, so I’d have to start them where the others left off.”
The Bennett library consist of two bookshelves and about 600 tapes. Each tape has two hours of recording time. Bill figures he’s averaged about $5 per tape. At five bucks a pop, that’s about $3,000 dollars in videotapes. Not to mention he’s on the third video camera of his amateur career.
“I’ve been dying 1,000 deaths,” he said after Purdue’s Katie Crabtree hit one over the fence for the eventual game-winner in the 16th Saturday. “But this is the best because we’ve come from behind twice already in extra innings.”
Minnesota surrendered the tying run in the top of the seventh. In the top of the 11th, Purdue’s Keely Povlitz hit an RBI single.
But it couldn’t end there.
The Gophers’ Angel Braden hit one over the NCAA logo in centerfield to tie the game in the bottom of the 11th.
In the top of the 13th, with a runner on second, Povlitz struck out, but reached base on a wild pitch. Skeeter Nixon hit an RBI single for the Boilermakers.
But it didn’t end there.
Braden hit a sacrifice fly to the wall to score Tammi Hays in the bottom of the 13th.
After Crabtree’s home run, the Gophers threatened to tie yet again in the bottom half of the 16th, but they ran out of lives.
“It happened a lot more in the old days when the mound was about three feet closer,” said Gophers co-coach Lisa Bernstein, “and the balls and bats were a little different. It was a dogfight, you’ve got to love it.”
As for a freshman pitcher with 320 innings on her arm this season: “Don’t worry about Angie,” Dennis said. “She’s a trooper.”

Mark Heller covers softball and welcomes comments at [email protected]