Softball finally clinches spot in Big Ten tournament

Wins over Penn State and Ohio State mean Minnesota will be in the tournament field for the first time since 1999.

Minnesota’s softball team was only supposed to play four games this weekend.

But with all the extra innings, the Gophers put in almost six games in a three-game span.

Minnesota came out with a 3-1 record on the weekend after facing Penn State and Ohio State. The Gophers now have an overall record of 35-16-1 and 11-7 in the Big Ten.

More importantly, the three-win weekend qualified Minnesota for the Big Ten tournament; the first conference tournament appearance for the Gophers since 1999 when they were the Big Ten tournament champions.

Michigan will likely host the tournament, sitting alone in the number-one spot with a 13-3 Big Ten record.

It was the first game in each series that was forced into extra innings. The Gophers won 2-1 and 5-1 against the Buckeyes and split with the Lions 1-0 and 6-2.

Ace pitcher Piper Marten threw 23.2 of the 35.2 innings on the weekend. She picked up three wins, moving her record to 19-9.

“You have a whole week to recover most of the time so you just lay it all out on the line on the weekends,” Marten said. “That’s what they’re there for.”

Marten pitched a nine-inning, complete-game shutout in the first game against the Lions. Her seven strikeouts were backed up by solid defense when the ball was put into play.

Penn State and Minnesota combined to leave 25 runners on base in the nine innings. Andrea Smith finally came through with an RBI single in the ninth, scoring Veronica Roberts.

However, the second game against Penn State was dominated by the Lions.

Though Jordanne Nygren tallied her 14th home run of the season in the second, scoring two runs, it wasn’t enough to stay ahead.

Penn State’s four runs off five hits in the third inning and two more runs in the fifth forced dizzying pitching changes by Minnesota.

Lyn Peyer allowed nine hits and Angie Recknor allowed four causing the flip-flop pitching change from Peyer to Recknor then back to Peyer.

“We weren’t getting ahead of batters and when you don’t get ahead of batters you give them a lot more pitches to see,” co-head coach Lisa Bernstein said. “We need to do a better job getting ahead and throwing less pitches.”

Pitching was also the key to Friday night’s game against the Buckeyes.

The Minnesota pitching staff “did a good job dancing with each other” as Bernstein put it, when all three pitchers appeared in the lineup at the same time. One was pitching, one was at first and one played at the designated player spot.

Roberts was Minnesota’s crucial hitter and only run scorer Friday. Her five at bats gave way to two hits and two runs driven in off Anne Thul’s RBIs.

“They’re going to take the stick out of Jordanne’s hands and then Veronica’s going to come up in RBI situations and it’s happened time after time,” Bernstein said. “She’s doing a great job proving herself.”

The long game allowed for all but one player to see action. This allowed the coaching staff to see what was going to work for Saturday’s game.

The strategy was again to have all three pitchers available. Marten pitched the entire game with Recknor at first and Peyer in the 10-spot as the designated player.

Roberts was again the key hitter for the Gophers going 2-2 at the plate. She also scored two runs, had two RBIs and made two put-outs in center field to go with the number two on her jersey.

“I think there’s just more focus it being the end of the season,” Roberts said. “I’m just ready to do whatever is asked of me.”

The Gophers will next face Drake University at 4 p.m. Wednesday in a doubleheader at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium.

Sam Campanaro covers softball and welcomes comments at [email protected]