Hard-fought win followed by ugly loss

The Gophers overcame a strange rule Saturday, but Sunday were mercy-ruled.

There were smiles all around this weekend for the Gophers softball team, but most of them were just the playersâÄô way of dealing with a bevy of questionable calls made by the umpiring crew.

Minnesota split its fifth consecutive Big Ten series, grabbing the opening game before getting blown out in a cold and windy Sunday matchup against Michigan State.

Despite a 6-3 win that secured a winning record (28-21, 6-8 Big Ten), it was a frustrating Saturday for the Gophers, as they had to battle the weather, the Spartans and the umpires in a hard-fought win.

The game began with a two-hour rain delay, but that was nothing compared to the exasperating in-game delay caused by a Minnesota illegal substitution.

Just as the GophersâÄô bats were coming alive in the bottom of the fourth, shortstop Jessie Hathaway reported the wrong number when she came to plate before being plunked by a fastball. The violation wasnâÄôt caught right away, as it took two at-bats for Michigan State to bring up the incident.

Not sure what to do, the umpires took about 20 minutes deliberating, talking with the coaches, looking at the rule book and even consulting an iPad to help them make a ruling. Finally, they decided to eject Hathaway, who was on second with the bases loaded.

Though the call killed MinnesotaâÄôs momentum in the fourth, they came back strong, sitting the Spartans down 1-2-3 in the fifth before adding two more in the bottom of the inning. The Spartans were able to add a pair of runs in the bottom of the seventh, but head coach Jessica Allister brought in Alissa Koch to close the game for her first career save.

âÄúFight, fight, fight,âÄù catcher Kari Dorle said. âÄúThe team that would fight the hardest I think would win that game after all those delays.âÄù

Allister was particularly impressed with KochâÄôs role in MinnesotaâÄôs win. The junior pitcher had to fill in as designated player after HathawayâÄôs ejection, putting a ball in play during her first ever at-bat for the Gophers. She then came in to help out a struggling Sara Moulton in the seventh, retiring all three batters she faced and ending the game with a strikeout.

âÄúKoch did a heck of a job of coming in and closing out that game,âÄù Allister said. âÄúSheâÄôs been battling all year, sheâÄôs getting better every year, and I am so happy for her and proud of her for coming in and doing what she did.âÄù

The second game began just like the first, as Minnesota gave up a first-inning run on a close play at the plate. But the Gophers were not able to rebound from the deficit this time. Michigan State pounded out 12 runs and nine hits, beating Minnesota by mercy rule, 12-2, in five innings and matching the GophersâÄô worst loss of the year.

There were more tough calls in the first few innings, but the Gophers were to blame for letting the second game get away. A pair of costly errors and ill-timed wild pitches cursed the team, culminating in a nine-run top of the fifth for the Spartans.

The Gophers head on the road next, playing Wednesday at Northwestern before facing off against No. 9 Michigan in Ann Arbor over the weekend. Even with the tough loss, the team is still looking forward to finishing the season strong.

âÄúEvery time you can get on a field and play, itâÄôs a good day,âÄù Allister said.