Road-weary softball team ready for Big Ten homestand

Mark Heller

This last weekend in April is the last homestand for the Gophers softball team.
You might happen to be wondering — and there’s no doubt you were — exactly how often has Minnesota played in its new stadium?
Good question. They’ve been at home (or the Metrodome) next to never. All told, 12 games will be played at Minnesota’s new softball stadium this season. The last four of those 12 games are this weekend against Indiana on Friday and Purdue Saturday and Sunday.
That leaves a mammoth 41 games away from Minneapolis over the course of three-and-a-half months. Every year the Gophers have to spend the first six weeks of the season on the road, waiting for Mother Nature to flip the season’s switch. When the Gophers moved into their new stadium March 31, the ratio of road-to-home games remaining was 13-12.
“I think we’re a little fatigued,” co-coach Lisa Bernstein said. “Our legs are a little tired. We’re physically a little tired, but mentally we’re in pretty good shape.”
This kind of schedule isn’t brand-new to Minnesota, but it’s been compounded by other components.
“We’ve traveled a lot this year because we owed some trips,” said Bernstein. “Plus we’re on semesters now, so academically we’re getting to crunch time. We’ve also played a lot in April.
“But it’s nothing we can’t handle.”
In April, 21 games are played on 13 dates.
If you play enough games, something unfortunate is bound to happen.
Injuries took a toll on the Gophers’ infield the past two weeks. Both Michelle Bennett and Allie Fisk have been hurting, causing a carousel of fielders in the infield.
“You have to be extremely aware of plays that are happening,” Nygren, who was switched to third, said. “That was totally new for me, to watch the batters’ hands all the time and to watch different scenarios happen, and it’s obviously a lot quicker of a game there.”
The infield is now back to normal and at a picture-perfect time.
Two games against Indiana on Friday and single games against Purdue on Saturday and Sunday could be the final say in whether Minnesota can get the sixth and final spot for the Big Ten tournament.
“It’s been more mentally demanding,” said freshman pitcher Meagan Hautala. “Physically we’ve been working hard … I still wouldn’t give up this opportunity for anything.”
And for the final bit of news surrounding the team, the stadium will have its official dedication ceremony before Saturday’s game. The Minnesota softball stadium is now the Jane Sage Cowles Stadium. The Cowles family donated $1 million for the $2.1 million dollar stadium.
This weekend we’ll see what a tiring team desperate for wins can do in front of a large crowd inside a newly named stadium.
Oy vey.
“It’s been tough sometimes, but it’s not like we’re getting blown away in losses,” Nygren said. “We just run out of innings and the games just happen to have been over when they’re ahead.”

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