Gophers punch ticket to NCAA Super Regional

Minnesota will take on Oregon next week in a best-of-three series with a trip to the Women’s College World Series on the line.

by Betsy Helfand

In the past week, freshman Sam Macken has shown her propensity for big moments.

Last week, she delivered a walk-off hit to lead Minnesota to a Big Ten tournament championship.

Sunday, Macken struck again.

With the Gophers down a run in the bottom of the sixth, Macken smacked a three-run home run to give her team an 8-6 lead over Auburn and guide it to its first-ever NCAA Super Regional.

“Everyone wants to be in that spot, so if you’re in it, have fun with it and see what happens,” Macken said.

Macken’s heroics pulled the Gophers out of a hole they had spent innings battling back from.

The Gophers lost Sunday’s first game to the Tigers on a walk-off home run in extra innings.

In between the two games, head coach Jessica Allister’s message was clear.

“[I told them] that we were going to win,” Allister said. “We needed to stick together and we needed to fight. It didn’t matter how long it was going to take.”

They did that.

After swapping leads in the first two innings, the Gophers fell behind by three runs in the third after an Auburn grand slam.

Pitchers Sara Groenewegen and Sara Moulton, who carried a bulk of the load in the circle for the Gophers this season, pitched a combined 3.1 innings in Sunday’s second game.

That set the stage for sophomore Nikki Anderson, who took advantage of her opportunity.

“I’ve said it all along — Nikki’s the unsung hero of the pitching staff,” Allister said. 

Anderson gave up just two hits and no runs in 3.2 innings pitched.

In the process, she held Auburn’s offense down long enough for her own team to make a comeback.

The Gophers tacked on two runs in the fourth inning to cut Auburn’s lead to one.

Two innings later, Macken came through in the clutch.

“Everybody’s got to be ready when they get that opportunity and they were,” Allister said.

After a back-and-forth day, junior shortstop Tyler Walker said it was a “breath of fresh air,” when the final out was recorded.

With the win, the Gophers are headed to a Super Regional matchup against Oregon.

“I don’t think it’s sunk in yet,” Allister said. “It just means that the season that this team has put together gets to continue.”

Minnesota began its season with eight straight victories and continued winning en route to one of the best years in program history.

The Gophers will look to extend their season in the best-of-three Super Regional.

“We’re not done. We’re just going to keep playing,” Walker said.