Gophers go 0-for-4 in first home weekend

David McCoy

The road trip ended, but the losing streak continued for Minnesota’s softball team.

After starting the season with 37-straight road games, the Gophers (12-29, 1-15 Big Ten) were swept by Illinois and Northwestern in a pair of doubleheaders Saturday and Sunday in their first home stand of the season at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium, extending their losing streak to eight games.

Minnesota now has lost 17 of its past 18 games after Illinois won 7-1 and 4-0 on Saturday and Northwestern won 4-3 in 18 innings and 4-2 on Sunday.

But the marathon loss to the Big Ten-leading Wildcats gave Minnesota co-coach Lisa Bernstein reason to believe things could turn around soon.

“We’ve been there all year,” Bernstein said. “An inning away, a hit away, a pitch away, a throw across the diamond away from having a completely different record. One of these days it’s going to come all together for us.”

After two outs to start the bottom of the first inning in game one, Minnesota began a rally that resulted in a bases-loaded, two-run single by Megan Arns to take a 2-0 lead.

Northwestern slowly climbed back, getting a bases-loaded RBI from Katie Logan in the second inning and an RBI double from Garland Cooper in the fifth.

The teams then remained scoreless for 11 innings as Wildcats All-American pitcher Eileen Canney racked up strikeout after strikeout and Northwestern left runner after runner stranded.

Canney finished with an NCAA record-tying 28 strikeouts while the Wildcats left a total of 25 runners on base.

“They’re a good team, so I just wanted to keep my team in it,” Gophers freshman pitcher Katie Dalen said. “The defense played great behind me.”

Northwestern finally cracked Dalen in the top of the 17th when a Dotson RBI single to left field broke the tie.

But Minnesota rallied in the bottom of the 17th. After Chrissy Sward grounded out, Gophers catcher Megan Higginbotham reached first on an error after Canney bobbled an attempted putout at first.

She reached second on a wild pitch and then scored on a single by Valerie Alston to push the game into the 18th.

But Northwestern got after Dalen again. Dalen hit Sheila McCorkle to lead off the inning and McCorkle later scored on a two-out single by Logan for the eventual winning run.

Sticking with the Wildcats gave Minnesota momentum for the nightcap, as the Gophers surged ahead 2-0 in the top of the fourth.

With one out, Alston doubled off the centerfield wall and moved to third after Konderik singled. A squeeze bunt by Arns scored Alston. Northwestern pitcher Courtnay Foster walked pinch-hitter Lisa Parks later in the inning with the bases loaded to give the Gophers a 2-0 lead.

But that lead later evaporated in the bottom of the sixth.

Tammy Williams led off the inning with a single to left and scored on a single by Dotson.

Then, with two outs, Dotson scored when Conway misplayed a grounder to short.

Then Arns dropped a pop foul by Ashley Crane that would have ended the inning. On the next pitch Crane hit a grounder to Conway, who made an errant throw past first which led to two runs crossing the plate.

“You can take thousands of ground balls, and the ball takes a hop the wrong way or you don’t get your footing,” Higginbotham said. “Unfortunately it didn’t go our way. But I’ll take ‘C-Way’ over any shortstop in the Big Ten. She did a great job today regardless of the outcome at the end of the game.”