The Minnesota Golden Gophers continued on their tear through the Big Ten schedule on the diamond last weekend earning a three-game sweep of the Nebraska Cornhuskers in Lincoln. Minnesota is now 13-1 in the Big Ten and 32-10 overall on the season. Minnesota next turns to a huge double header against the Wisconsin Badgers in Madison on Wednesday.
Minnesota got the sweep on the back of their ace pitcher Amber Fiser once again. Fiser went 2-0 on the weekend with two complete game wins, 23 strikeouts and allowed just two earned runs. For her efforts she was named the Big Ten Pitcher of the Week for the fourth time this season.
Fiser picked up her first win in Friday’s opener. The Gophers would win 3-0 but Fiser was the story. She struck out 13 batters to tie her career high for the fourth time this season and allowed just six hits in the win.
Minnesota took the early lead in the second inning when they scored a run on four straight walks by Nebraska. They would add two more in the sixth inning on a Carlie Brandt double, a pair of walks and then an RBI single by Hope Brandner and a safrefice fly by Natalie DenHartog. Nebraska threatened in the seventh but Fiser struck out the potential tying run to end the game and claim the 3-0 win.
On Saturday it was the Minnesota offense that stole the show. Minnesota took a 1-0 lead in the third inning when Brandt stole second base and advanced all the way to score on an overthrow. It would be the fourth inning where Minnesota put the game away. The Gophers plated five runs on four hits in the fourth inning. DenHartog started off the inning by crushing her 12th home run of the season to left center field to make it 2-0. A pair of walks and a single loaded the bases but Nebraska got a pair of outs. Makenna Partain make it 3-0 on a single to keep the bases juiced. Maddie Houlihan would strike the big blow as she then hit a bases clearing triple to knock in three more runs to make it 6-0.
The Gophers added a pair more in the top of the seventh on an Ali Lindner two-run home run.
Sydney Smith was in the circle for the Gophers and she was nearly flawless through five innings of hitless pitching. The Cornhuskers finally got to her in the sixth inning for four hits and a run and they would add a pair more runs in the bottom of the seventh to make the final score 8-3. Smith went all seven innings giving up 6 hits, three runs and striking out three to move her record to 10-4 on the season.
Fiser once again was in the circle for Sunday’s finale. She was not as sharp as she was on Friday, but the Minnesota offense bailed her out with two huge innings to earn a 9-3 win. Minnesota strung a pair of singles and a fielders choice together in the top of the second to go up 1-0. Katelyn Kemmetmueller started off with a single and Lindler added a second one before Partain scored one run on a fielders choice to nab Lindner at second. They added a second run in the third inning after a DenHartog double and a Houlihan RBI single.
Fiser got in a bit of trouble in the bottom of the third giving up a double and a pair of singles to tie the game at two. Fiser had to get out of another jam in the fourth putting runners on second and third with jsut one out before she battled back to get a strike out and ground out to end the threat. It would remain tied until the fifth inning when the Gopher bats heated up.
They would plate two in the fifth after Brandner led off with a single. Macy Gill pinch ran for her and would come round to score on another Houlihan RBI single. After a fielding error allowed Allie Arneson to reach first and Houlihan to score the Gophers took a 4-2 lead. They would add five more runs in the sixth with another big outburst. Lindner and Carlie Brandt hit back to back singles before Partain doubled to score Lindner. Brandt scored on a Brandner sac fly, and Partain scored on a DenHartog double. Minnesota would add two more on a pair of walks and a Taylor Chell two RBI single to make it 9-2.
The Cornhuskers would add one last run in the bottom of the sixth t make it 9-3 but thats how the game would end. Fiser went all seven innings giving up six hits and allowing just two earned runs. She strike out nine batters to move her season total to 222 strikeouts on the season and improve her record to 20-6.
Fiser and the Gophers moved up in this week’s rankings. They currently are #11 in both the NCAA RPI and the ESPN/USA Softball Poll and are #16 in the NFCA Coaches Poll. They begin the last stretch of the Big Ten regular season on Wednesday with a huge doubleheader against Wisconsin in Madison. The two teams originally were to play last week but the twin-set was postponed due to weather.
It will be a huge series for both teams and their potential NCAA seeding. Minnesota sits at 12-1 in the Big Ten in third place behind 17-0 Northwestern and 16-1 Michigan. Wisconsin is right behind in fourth place at 10-5 in the conference. Minnesota really could use a sweep against a quality RPI opponent to improve their odds of potentially hosting a NCAA Regional in Minneapolis in a few weeks.
But it will not be tough. Wisconsin features a few of the Big Ten’s best players this season. Kayla Konwent leads both the Badgers and the Big Ten with a .492 batting average. She has knocked in 33 runs, has 61 hits, 15 doubles and leads the Big Ten with 15 home runs—three more than DenHartog for Minnesota. Taylor Johnson is right behind for Wisconsin hitting .370 with 38 runs, 47 hits, seven doubles, nine home runs, 13 stolen bases and 33 RBIs.
Lest you think this will be just a matchup of the Badger offense against the Gophers pitching, Wisconsin also has one of the better pitchers in the conference. Sophomore Haley Hestekin has a 1.89 ERA on the season and has a 14-3 record with 98 strikeouts. Minnesota will see her in one game and Kaitlyn Menz in the second. Mentz is 15-5 with a 1.56 ERA on the season. As a team Wisconsin leads the Big ten with a staff ERA of 1.77 ERA.
The Gophers offense will need to produce and they will need to get great starts out of both Fiser and Smith to get a huge sweep. The first game begins at 1PM with the second to follow and both games will stream on BTN+.
Minnesota then returns home this weekend to host Iowa in what should be a pretty easy weekend for the Gophers. They end the regular season in a week in a half in what will be a massive series with major NCAA seeding implications when Northwestern comes to town. The Wildcats lead the Big ten at 17-0 and are currently ranked one spot ahead of the Gophers in 10th place in the most recent NCAA RPI ratings.