The Minnesota Golden Gophers won the Big Ten Softball Tournament for the second year in a row and for the third time in the last four years on Saturday. It took some dramatics in the semifinals against the Illinois Fighting Illini, and some history in the making in the final against the Ohio State Buckeyes, but the Gophers added another piece of hardware to an already historic season. Minnesota will now await its seed in the NCAA Tournament to be revealed on Sunday.
The Gophers one Big Ten loss on the season was to Illinois, and the Illini once again played the Gophers insanely tough in the semifinal game Saturday morning. Freshman Amber Fiser got the start in the circle as the Gophers have been doing for the second game of a series all season. She got off to a bit of a rough start loading the bases in the first inning before getting out of a jam, and once again loading them in the second before Illinois scored the first run of the game on a sac fly. Illinois would add a second run in the third inning, and Minnesota found themselves down 2-0. Minnesota’s bats would finally come alive in the bottom of the fourth. Sydney Dwyer led off the inning with her first home run of the day. (key on first here...) The Gophers would load the bases with two outs for Big Ten Freshman and Player of the Year Kendyl Lindaman. And she did not disapoint.
Lindaman’s Big Ten leading 20th home run of the year was a no doubt grand slam, and the Gophers led 5-2 after 4 innings. The Illini would strike back in the top of the 5th inning off of Fiser and Carlie Brandt. A three-run home run would knot the game up at 5 after 5. Gopher ace Sara Groenewegen came in to pitch in the top of the sixth and threw two hitless innings aided by center fielder Dani Wagner doing her best Byron Buxton impression to send the game to the bottom of the seventh tied at five.
Dwyer led off the bottom of the seventh inning for the Gophers, and with a 2-1 count made sure that Minnesota would be playing in the Championship Game a few hours later.
The Gophers awaited the winner of Ohio State and Michigan State in the second semifinal, and the Buckeyes would pull out a 4-3 win to advance.
Minnesota sent their ace Groenewegen to the circle with a 29-2 record on the season, a 0.61 ERA, and a 2-0 record without giving up a single hit in the Big Ten Tournament thus far. Neither team could get anything going in the first four innings of the title game, but in the top of the fifth it was once again Dwyer’s day. If two home runs in the first game including a walk-off weren’t enough, Dwyer connected on the first pitch of her at bat in the fifth inning and lifted an absolute no-doubter over the left-centerfield wall to give the Gophers a 2-0 lead.
Minnesota would add a third run in the top of the fifth and took a 3-0 lead into the bototm of the inning. In the bottom of the inning, the Buckeyes finally got a hit off of Groenewegen snapping a 14 inning streak of keeping her opponents hitless. However, thats all it was and Minnesota kept the Buckeyes off the board. Groenewegen would strike out the side in the bottom of the sixth inning, and her last strikeout would break Sara Moulton’s Gopher record of 1,184 career strikeouts.
Gopher senior Sam Macken added two more runs with a RBI double in the top of the 7th, and freshman MaKenna Partain would knock in Macken to make it 6-0 Gophers going to the bottom of the seventh. Groenewegen’s 12th strikeout of the game would eliminate Ohio State, give the Gophers the title, and get Gopher head coach Jessica Allister an icewater bath.
Sydney Dwyer, Kendyl Lindaman and Sara Groenewegen were all named to the All-Tournament Team, and Gronewegen was awarded the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player Award. The win gets the Gophers the Big Ten’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Minnesota had extended its school record for wins in a season to 54, and increased thier school record winning streak to 25 consecutive games.
Minnesota will find out what seed the NCAA Committee awards them when the NCAA Softball Tournament Selection Show takes place at 9 PM Central on ESPN2. Minnesota is currently ranked #2 in the NFCA Coaches Poll, and could move up to #1 this week after current #1 Florida lost in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament to eventual champion Ole Miss. Minnesota was ranked #7 by the NCAA Committee as of last Saturday. This number is key as the top 8 teams would be the hosts of the NCAA SuperRegionals should they advance to the round of 16.
The Gophers are guaranteed to host a four-team regional next weekend at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium. If Minnesota can advance from that four team group, and are one of the top 8 seeded teams advancing, they would host a best of three Super Regional the following weekend with a trip to the NCAA College World Series on the line.
Check back here after 9PM Central Sunday night to see who see what seed the committee thinks the Gophers are worth, and who will be making the trip to Minneapolis next weekend.