Minnesota extends winning streak

by Paul Cordes

The Minnesota softball team let the bats do the talking in a pair of games against North Dakota State as it used the long ball to take both games of the doubleheader Thursday night at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium.

The Gophers put together back-to-back two-run innings in the first game to steal away a 5-2 win, and senior first baseman Lisa Parks led Minnesota in the nightcap with her second multi-home run game of the year in the 5-1 victory.

In game one, the Gophers (19-16, overall, 2-4 Big Ten) weren’t just swinging hot sticks, they were swinging them against one of the best pitchers in the country.

North Dakota State’s junior right-hander Allison Bakke came into the game ranked No. 2 in earned run averages among Division I Independents at 1.23, but it didn’t take long for Minnesota to get her.

“We felt like we had a good game plan,” coach Lisa Bernstein said. “We knew what we had to do to produce runs, and we had hitters step up all throughout our lineup and were clutch today.”

And senior shortstop Megan Higginbotham was certainly one of those clutch hitters.

Higginbotham decided to set the tone for the game right out of the gate as she led off the top of the first with a solo blast to the left-field power alley.

Bernstein called the home run amazing and said it really got the momentum heading in her team’s direction.

And where Higginbotham and the Gophers left off, Parks picked right back up in game two.

The Bison got out to an early one-run lead, but a three-run Minnesota third, which included Parks’ first two-run home run, was all the Gophers would need.

But Parks wasn’t done, and came up to the plate to belt her second two-run homer of the day to left center to put Minnesota up by five.

“It’s a good feeling to be able to hit yourself, especially when you do it twice in a row after only two pitches,” Parks said. “And it gave us a big lead that we really needed.”

And after taking that lead, the Gophers turned things over to sophomore right-hander Briana Hasset, who took care of the rest.

After Minnesota’s three-run third, North Dakota State (27-21) threatened to take that lead right back as it loaded the bases with just one out.

But Hasset recorded two big strikeouts to get out of the jam and all but take the wind out of the Bison’s sails.

“I think that definitely helped, especially after getting those big hits that we had,” Hasset said of her timely strikeouts. “Then we came out with some great defense and really showed them that we were here to play.”

After a pair of big wins, the Gophers have accrued plenty of momentum – now winners of six consecutive games.

They’re certainly going to need it heading into a tough weekend, with a pair of games against a dangerous No. 10 Northwestern team at noon Sunday.

The Wildcats (33-10, 8-3) sport a team earned run average of 1.84, which is second in the conference, and that means Minnesota will need to take advantage of every single at bat.

“Northwestern’s going to be a tough weekend, but I’m excited,” Bernstein said. “We’re going to have to be disciplined at the plate and try to hit a mistake and, if we get a mistake, we have to attack it. We just have to go out there, stay relaxed and play ball.”