Minnesota splits to open Big Ten season

The Gophers’ series with Indiana featured two of the conference’s best pitchers.

by Jesse Mandell-McClinton

In its first weekend of Big Ten play, the Gophers softball team split a pair of games against Indiana in a series that featured arguably the top two starting pitchers in the conference.

Going into Sunday, MinnesotaâÄôs Sara Moulton and IndianaâÄôs Morgan Melloh were the only pitchers in the Big Ten with more than 200 strikeouts. They added generously to that total this weekend, ringing up a combined 40 batters.

âÄúMoulton did a great job coming out on Saturday,âÄù head coach Jessica Allister said. âÄúThe defense did a very good job behind her, staying strong and making all the plays.âÄù

Allister praised MoultonâÄôs ability to find her zone and control each at-bat. Both of those factors helped her ring up 15 Hoosiers, tying a career high, in a 2-0 Minnesota win.

The Gophers are giving new meaning to the expression one-hit wonders this season, as their victory over Indiana on Saturday was the second game in two weeks the team has won with a single base hit. This time it was a first inning two-run home run by third baseman Alex Davis that led Minnesota to the win.

âÄúWhen I first hit it, I thought we were going to come back and score a lot more runs,âÄù Davis said. Instead, Melloh stymied the Gophers for the rest of the game, only allowing two more baserunners while striking out 12.

But it wasnâÄôt enough to overcome Moulton, who has blanked nine different teams this season, an impressive stat given that the Gophers only had four as a club last year. Her success has plenty to do with the teamâÄôs defensive approach, as Minnesota is averaging less than an error a game in MoultonâÄôs shutouts.

The Gophers came out in a similar fashion Sunday, scoring two first inning runs behind an RBI single by Jessie Hathaway and an Indiana throwing error that brought home Bree Blanchette.

Minnesota was not able to silence Indiana again, however, as the Hoosiers answered with two first inning runs of their own and added single runs in the second and third. Allister decided to change things up, calling on Alissa Koch to relieve Moulton after just two innings of work.

Koch was effective, giving up one run on three hits in her four innings of work, but Minnesota couldnâÄôt get anything going offensively and lost 4-2. Outside of Jessie Hathaway, who went 2-for-2 and reached base in all four plate appearances, the Gophers couldnâÄôt find a rhythm at the plate, stranding 10 runners on base.

âÄúThey hit the ball more today,âÄù Hathaway said about IndianaâÄôs performance. âÄúDefensively I donâÄôt think there was much difference.âÄù

Melloh again shut the door on the Gophers after the first inning and racked up 12 strikeouts for the second game in a row, improving to 15-12 on the year. Moulton came out of the weekend with an 18-9 record, good for the Big Ten lead in wins.

Considering MinnesotaâÄôs 2-17 record in the Big Ten last year, a weekend split against a top-notch pitcher is a respectable way for the team to open conference play.

âÄúWe learned that every Big Ten game is going to be a battle,âÄù Allister said.