Dimension change favors Gophers

by Noah Seligman

For the 2004 season the NCAA decided to change the dimensions of the regulation softball. The new ball will have a core density of .47 instead of the .50 measurement used in previous seasons.

The switch was made to slow the game and prevent injuries. A softer core means fewer extra base hits and forces teams to focus more on manufacturing runs.

But that’s just fine for Minnesota’s softball team. The Gophers (19-10) lost 24 of their 33 home runs from last year’s squad and have played more small-ball this year.

“We’re always working on our hitting approach,” co-coach Lisa Bernstein said. “There’s a lot of strategy we’re working on.”

The practice has paid off for Minnesota. After starting the season 1-5, the Gophers have rebounded and are riding an eight-game winning streak.

“I’m really pleased with how we’re playing right now,” Bernstein said. “This team has been fighting since the beginning. Our hitting has come on, our ‘D’ is solid and our starting pitching has been great.”

In its 19 wins Minnesota has recorded seven shutouts and had seven games with only one run allowed.

The pitching staff is anchored by senior Piper Marten. The Farmington, N.M., native set a new single-season school record with 311 strikeouts last season. She earned All-Big Ten first team and All-Mideast Region second team accolades.

Junior Lyn Peyer is the other returning pitcher for the Gophers. She made 23 appearances for Minnesota last season and posted a 3-1 record with a 1.67 ERA.

Two freshman hurlers, Rene Konderik and Mandy Valadez, complete the Gophers’ rotation.

Minnesota has 11 underclassmen on its 17-player roster.

With conference play opening April 2, the Gophers currently sit sixth in the standings.

Bernstein said she believes that there is a great deal of parity in the conference this year, with every team close in terms of strength.

And it’s her squad that is notably close on and off the diamond.

“This is one of the most cohesive groups we’ve had,” Bernstein said. “This team has great respect for the game.”

The Gophers finished fifth in the Big Ten in 2003 with a record of 12-8 in the conference and a mark of 37-21-1 overall.

Minnesota earned its first Big Ten Tournament berth last season since it won the tournament title in 1999.

The Gophers are also looking to make their third straight trip to the NCAA Tournament this year.

Minnesota was eliminated in the third round last season after losing 4-0 to top-ranked Arizona and falling 4-2 to Boston College.

Two Gophers honored

Marten and freshman Megan Higginbotham were honored by the Big Ten this week. Marten’s 5-0 record last weekend in the circle earned her pitcher of the week, while the Tallahassee, Fla., native’s .440 batting average in 25 at-bats earned her player of the week.