Drake downs Minnesota in Metrodome Softball Classic championship

Matt Perkins

During the past several seasons, Minnesota’s softball team has progressively become a small-ball-oriented team.

That style had worked most of the weekend leading up to Sunday’s Metrodome Softball Classic championship against Drake.

But the Gophers had big problems executing their small-ball game plan against the Bulldogs in a 3-1 loss.

“We had opportunities in the first half of the ballgame that we didn’t take advantage of,” Minnesota co-coach Lisa Bernstein said. “When we get in RBI situations, someone has to step up and perform.”

The Gophers led the tournament in sacrifice hits and stolen bases going into Sunday’s action.

Drake, which had scored more runs than any other team in the tournament, jumped on the Gophers by scoring two runs in the top of the first.

Bernstein said even after falling behind early, the Gophers did not stray from their game plan.

Ironically enough, the Gophers’ only run of the championship game came from a solo home run off the bat of junior Valerie Alston in the bottom half of the second inning.

In the end, they were outhit by their opponents 28-25 and scored the second-fewest runs of any team in the tournament.

But they still managed to finish second with a 3-2 record, also losing to Tulsa on Friday and beating Wisconsin-Green Bay and Western Illinois on Thursday and Northern Iowa on Saturday.

Highlighting the box scores during the tournament for the Gophers were sophomores Megan Higginbotham and Katie Meyer, who both got voted to the all-tournament team.

Higginbotham went 5-for-13 with two RBIs and five stolen bases in the tournament.

She said that to win close games, the Gophers must improve their short game.

“We need to get better at playing small-ball,” Higginbotham said. “We need to continue to work on executing the bunt.”

The Gophers finished the tournament second in sacrifice bunts with seven.

In the five games played, the Gophers had only five extra-base hits – the fewest in the tournament.

The Gophers pitching staff, which was a question mark going into the season, came through for the team by allowing only five runs in five games.

Sophomore Rene Konderik went 2-0 for the Gophers with a 0.50 earned run average, and senior Lyn Peyer went 0-1 with a 0.72 ERA. Freshman starter Katie Dalen picked up the loss in the championship game but finished the tournament with a 1-1 record and a 1.91 ERA.

Unfortunately for the Gophers, you need to score runs to win games.

And to score runs, the team needs to come through in the clutch, co-coach Julie Standering said.

“The games we executed (small-ball) – we won those games,” Standering said. “The games we didn’t, clearly that was, I think, 100 percent a direct correlation with our success and failure.”