Gophers split first Big Ten series with Penn State in cool weather

Minnesota won the first game, but dropped the Saturday afternoon game.

by Marco LaNave

After playing most of the nonconference season in warmer weather, the Gophers softball team felt the bite of cooler climates in its first Big Ten series. An expectation of inclement weather Sunday pushed the second game of a series with Penn State to Saturday afternoon in University Park, Pa. Freshman Lacey Middlebrooks pitched a complete game in a 3-2 Game 1 victory, but she was chased early in the 8-3 Game 2 loss. Although Middlebrooks has pitched in both games of doubleheaders this season, Saturday was the first time she started both games. Co-head coach Lisa Bernstein said Middlebrooks could definitely handle the challenge, but Bernstein admitted itâÄôs challenging to face the same batters eight or more times in a single day. âÄúYouâÄôve got to constantly be making adjustments; youâÄôve got to constantly be manipulating your pitches,âÄù Bernstein said. âÄúIt was a good experience to go with the same team back-to-back right away.âÄù In Game 1, junior first baseman Malisa Barnes hit a third-inning RBI single and freshman third baseman Alex Davis hit a fifth-inning two-run home run to give Minnesota a 3-0 lead. In a situation parallel to the GophersâÄô March 19 game at Boise State, the Nittany Lions made it interesting in the bottom of the seventh after going scoreless on just three hits against Middlebrooks. Nittany Lions first baseman Kailyn Johnson hit a two-out, two-run single and advanced to second base on the play, putting the tying run in scoring position. After intentionally walking catcher Danee Collett, who had a two-hit game already, Middlebrooks retired second baseman Lauren Rossi on a groundout to close the win. Despite waiting in the cool weather between games, the GophersâÄô offense scored two first-inning runs. But Penn State (19-9, 1-1 Big Ten) scored four runs against Middlebrooks in the bottom half of the first before being relieved by sophomore Alissa Koch to start the second. After their first-inning burst, the Gophers cooled on offense, with the only hit coming on DavisâÄô third-inning home run, her third of the day. The highlight of the day offensively, Davis now has a team-leading nine home runs. âÄúItâÄôs awesome,âÄù sophomore shortstop Dannie Skrove said. âÄúComing in, [we] expected great things from her âĦ itâÄôs great to see her have young success.âÄù Though the Gophers (15-21, 1-1) struggled to muster much in the cold of Game 2 Saturday, Bernstein said they couldnâÄôt use the first tough weather of the season as an excuse. âÄúIn the second game of the doubleheader, it was freezing,âÄù Bernstein said. âÄúItâÄôs nothing we can do. We should be used to it by now âĦ In the Big Ten, itâÄôs kind of what we do.âÄù