The Minnesota Gophers softball team stayed hot especially against border rivals after sweeping the Wisconsin badgers in a doubleheader in Madison by scores of 9-0 and 7-0. The Gophers are now 9-1 in their last ten games and have climbed up the Big Ten Standings to sole possession of fourth place, just a single game out of second place.
A big reason for the Gophers recent success has been the play of their pitching staff. Minnesota has allowed just three runs in their last 56 and a third innings pitched, and all three of those runs were unearned. Gophers ace Autumn Pease was named the Big Ten Pitcher of the Week for her effort last weekend against Iowa going 3-0 and throwing 16 shutout innings. On Tuesday she and two other Gophers pitchers combined to not allow the Badgers to score a run.
Minnesota jumped out early in game one with a huge second inning doing the majority of their damage with two outs. After a Maddie Ehlke double and a Sydney Strelow single the Gophers had runners on first and third with two outs. Minnesota then hit four consecutive singles to plate five runs and jump out early on the Badgers.
The Gophers would add two more runs in the top of the third inning when freshman Sydney Schwartz went deep with a two-run bomb to make it 7-0. Schwartz’s sister Maddie was the starting pitcher for the Badgers but was pulled after the first two innings and did not gvie up the homer to her sister.
Minnesota would add two more in the fourth inning after Natalie DenHartog’s single plated two runners to make it 9-0.
Minnesota got three innings from starting pitcher Jacie Hambrick, and two in relief from Bri Enter. The pair of Gophers allowed five hits and struck out three in the five-inning run-rule win for the Gophers.
In game two Minnesota put Pease back in the circle, and just like she shutdown the Hawkeyes the Badgers had no answer for her. Minnesota spotted her a two-run lead before she even had a ball in her hands, and it was more than enough. After starting game one with a bang in the second, Minnesota would score a pair in the first inning on an Amani Bradley home run, a Jess Oakland double and a Taylor Krapf single.
The Gophers would add to the lead in the fourth inning plating one more run on an Ehlke double and a singe by Breezy Burnett. Bradley would score the Gophers fourth run in the fifth. She singles and would advance to both second and third on wild pitches before Den Hartog knocked her in with a single. In the sixth Minnesota made it 5-0 after ANOTHER Ehlke double, a Strelow single and a Schwartz RBI groundout. Finally the Gophers capped the scoring with their final two runs in the 7th on a Kayla Chavez home run and a Krapf RBI single scoring Bradley once again.
Pease was nearly perfect in six innings of work giving up just a single in the first inning before facing the minimum the rest of the game. She went six innings allowing just the single hit and striking out nine. Enter came into the game for the 7th inning and closed out the game. Pease moves to 21-6 on the season for the Gophers. She leads the Big Ten in wins with 21, strikeouts with 215, strikeouts looking with 56, and is second in the conference in ERA at 1.49 and shutouts with five.
Minnesota moved up to #29 in the NCAA RPI rankings after their sweep of the Badgers, second in the Big Ten behind Northwestern at #9. The Gophers are just one game out of second place in the conference at 11-6 right behind Indiana and Nebraska at 12-5. Northwestern leads the Big Ten at 15-2. But, the Gophers are squarely in position to make the NCAA Tournament once again.
First comes the final six games of the Big Ten regular season. Minnesota heads to Columbus for a big series against Ohio State who at 10-7 is just a game behind the Gophers for fourth in the conference. The following weekend Minnesota returns home for the final series of the regular season when they host the Michigan Wolverines who also are currently 10-7 in conference play. The teams will jockey for positioning for the Big Ten Tournament May 10-13 in Champaign. The top four teams will receive a bye directly into he quarterfinals, so earning one of those top four spots will be a key goal for the Gophers over their final six regular season games.