Big-hitting freshman leads

Michael Dougherty

Jordanne hits five home runs in her first five games.
No, this isn’t a headline from Michael Jordan’s revived baseball career. Instead, this Jordanne is Gophers freshman Jordanne Nygren, who belted five home runs for the No. 22 softball team in this weekend’s Metrodome Softball Classic.
Minnesota went 3-2 in the tournament, losing 4-3 to Missouri Sunday morning in the elimination game. The five-team field included Kansas, Western Illinois and Northern Illinois.
In a rematch of last year’s final, Kansas beat Missouri 2-0 to take the title away from the Tigers. Jayhawks pitcher Sarah Workman was named the MVP of the tournament, thanks to her shutouts of Missouri and the Gophers.
Nygren, meanwhile, started her Gophers career with a bang, smashing a two-run homer in her first collegiate at-bat in Minnesota’s 8-7 win against Western Illinois on Friday. Nygren, from Farmington, N.M., then sent a solo shot over the 200-foot temporary fence in the second inning.
“I never imagined this would have happened,” a grinning Nygren said of her incredible start. “I don’t know, I had to smile. I just couldn’t believe it happened.”
Believe it or not, Nygren’s five long balls move her into sixth place all-time on the team’s career list. Current Gophers shortstop Shannon Beeler is first with 32.
Nygren hit a homer in each of Saturday’s wins, an 8-0 five-inning shutout of Northern Illinois and a 2-1 decision against Missouri.
In Sunday’s rematch with the Tigers, Nygren hit a three-run shot in the third inning to give the Gophers a 3-2 lead. But that was all the short-handed Gophers could muster.
Minnesota was without the services of third baseman Angel Braden, catcher Erin Brophy, first baseman Dana Ballard, pitcher Erin Mooney and utility player Abby Stehula.
All five players were not allowed to play for what co-head coaches Lisa Bernstein and Julie Standering called “team reasons.” The coaches said no rules were violated.
Braden, Brophy and Ballard are all regulars in the lineup, with Braden and Brophy providing potent bats that could have helped protect Nygren and Beeler in the lineup.
Instead, freshmen Christine Lindberg (third base) and Katie Orth (designated player) and sophomore Michelle Bennett were forced into action.
Lindberg and Bennett responded well, going a combined 9-of-25, but Orth was 1-for-8. But the three combined to drive in only one run.
Both coaches said the suspensions did not change the outcome of the games, and that they were particularly impressed with the play of Bennett and Lindberg.
“The women that were sitting out were not the reason we lost the two games,” Standering said. “It was more that we did not take care of the ball.”
The Gophers were victimized by 10 errors during the tournament and gave up seven unearned runs, including two in Sunday’s loss. Yet despite the errors Minnesota had an excellent chance to win in the bottom of the seventh.
Leadoff hitter Steph Midthun reached base with a bunt single, but freshman left-fielder Tammi Hays popped up the sacrifice bunt. Beeler then lined a double down the left field line to move Midthun to third.
Nygren was intentionally walked, bringing Bennett to the plate with the bases loaded and the winning run at second. Bennett lined the first pitch to short for the second out, leaving the game in the hands of Orth.
Missouri pitcher Stephanie Falk struck out the freshman from Rochester, Minn., on a called third strike to give the Tigers the win.
Minnesota pitcher Steph Klaviter took the loss after giving up eight hits in 4 1/3 innings. She finished the tournament with a 1-2 record.
Bernstein and Standering said the senior — who ranks second on the school’s career wins list with 62 — is still rehabilitating shoulder and back injuries and recovering from a virus.
But overall, the pitching staff threw well, particularly freshman Heather Brown, Nygren’s high school teammate.
“Heather Brown came in and did a wonderful job,” Bernstein said. “She came in and was phenomenal. She didn’t give up any runs and won two games.”
Brown won two games and pitched 11 2/3 innings without giving up an earned run. She struck out 14 and walked five.
Nygren, Beeler and Brown were all named to the all-tournament team. Nygren finished 6-for-15 with 10 RBIs and Beeler was 6-for-16 with eight RBIs.