The Minnesota Gophers softball team knew that 6th seeded Ohio State would be ready for a rematch against the Gophers after getting swept in the regular season in Columbus two weekends ago. The Buckeyes did put up a fight taking a 2-1 lead on a two-run home run in the top of the 5th inning, but the Gophers would tie the game in the bottom of the inning and then Autumn Pease went to work shutting down the OSU offense until the Gopher offense could finally push the game winning run across in the bottom of the 8th inning. Minnesota advances to Friday night’s semifinal where they will play #2 Indiana who also needed extra innings to defeat #7 Penn State 5-4.
The Gophers expectedly threw their ace Pease in their Big Ten Tournament opener. She got to work quickly sending the Buckeyes down 1-2-3 in the top of the first. Minnesota would strike first in the bottom of the inning when on literally the first pitch of the game for MN Kayla Chavez took OSU pitcher Allison Smith deep to left field giving the Gophers a 1-0 lead.
It would be a pitchers duel the next three innings as Pease gave up just a pair of singles while the Gophers could not take advantage of a bases load one out situation in the bottom of the fourth and the score remained 1-0 heading to the fifth inning.
Ohio State finally got to Pease in the top of the fifth inning when a single put up the Buckeyes #9 hitter Kaitlyn Farley with one out. She would connect with a two-run home run, the first multi-run home run Pease had given up in over a month, and the Buckeyes suddenly had a 2-1 lead on the #3 seed Gophers.
Minnesota would come right back in the bottom of the inning stringing together a Chavez single and a Jess Oakland walk before 5th year senior Natalie DenHartog dropped a single in left field to score Chavez and tie the game at two.
Pease set the Buckeyes down in the 6th and 7th innings and Minnesota had a chance to walk off in regulation, but once again could not get a clutch hit as the Gophers put a pair of runners on base but could not get them home after a strikeout and fly out. The game would head to extra innings.
Pease would hit the first Buckeyes with a pitch in the top of the 8th and after a stolen base would get to second base, but a pair of strikeouts and a groundout would end the threat and give Minnesota another chance to walk off OSU in the 8th inning. And they would take that chance this time.
Sydney Strelow singled to center field to start the inning for the Gophers and she advanced to second on a sac bunt by Maddie Elhke. Delanie Cox would fly out setting the table for freshman outfielder Breezy Burnett. After taking a pitch for a ball Burnett hit the second pitch into short left field for a single. Strelow rounded third hard with absolutely no intention of stopping. The Buckeye throw to the plate was too high and Strelow would slide in safely and the Gophers would walk off with a 3-2 win.
Pease picked up win #26 on the season and threw 96 pitches in eight innings allowing just four hits and the pair of runs and striking out nine. The next question for Minnesota is if she can go again on Friday night in the semifinals, or if the Gophers will need to get through the semifinals leaning more on the rest of their pitching staff in Jacie Hambrick, Bri Enter or Sydney Schwartz, or most likely a combo of all three.
The Gophers will face #2 seed Indiana who also needed extra innings to advance. Indiana had to come back from down 4-2 in the 8th inning after giving up a two-run home run in the top of the 8th but would score a pair in the bottom of the 8th and then win on a walk-off home run by Sarah Stone in the bottom of the 9th to walk off #7 Penn State 5-4.
The Gophers and Hoosiers played a three game series at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium in April where the Gophers took wins in two of three. The Gophers lost the opener 9-3 after Pease had one of her worst pitching outings of the season giving up five runs in 4.2 innings. The Hosiers would tag Hambrick for four more runs in the final 2.1 innings. Minnesota would battle back to win 6-5 on a walk-off sac fly in the second game and 8-5 in the third game on Elhke’s three RBI triple in the bottom of the 6th.
Minnesota will need to shutdown Hoosier star freshman Taryn Kern. Kern was named both the Big Ten freshman of the Year and Player of the year after one of the best seasons in conference history. Kern led the Big Ten in NINE offensive categories: home runs (22), RBI (67), runs scored (65), total bases (140), walks (41), hit by pitch (20), on-base percentage (.605), slugging percentage (1.022) and OPS (1.627) — while also ranking third in batting average (.438) and sixth in hits (60).
Indiana’s ace pitcher Brianna Copeland did not start their win over Penn State but had to enter the game in the second inning after their starter was ineffective. She would throw 7.1 innings and a total of 97 pitches to earn the win. So the Hoosiers are in the same situation as the Gophers with their ace having pitched today and throwing 90+ pitches. It could be an interesting game of pitching chicken to see who puts their ace in the game first if they don’t start Friday night. First pitch is scheduled for 5 PM and the game will air live on BTN.