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Minnesota takes three of four games out east

Senior Piper Marten is now the 19th player in Division I history with 1,000 strikeouts.

After opening Big Ten play going 3-1 on a four-game road swing, Minnesota’s softball team exudes confidence.

The Gophers topped Ohio State 1-0 in 10 innings on Friday before falling 9-6 on Saturday to the Buckeyes and ending their nine-game winning streak.

Sunday, Minnesota took both games of a doubleheader from Penn State, winning 3-0 in game one and 5-2 in the second contest.

“I’m really pleased with how we played this weekend,” coach Lisa Bernstein said. “They’re very consistent with their mindset.”

The Gophers (22-11, 3-1) have won 11 of their last 12 games and their loss to Ohio State on Saturday couldn’t even dampen their spirits.

After falling behind 9-0, the Gophers came storming back, breaking up Ohio State pitcher Jamee Juarez’s no-hit bid in the fifth inning and scoring six runs over the final three frames.

“(When) we’re down, it doesn’t matter,” freshman catcher Megan Higginbotham said.

Minnesota found itself in an early two-run hole on Sunday in game two against Penn State. But the Gophers answered back with a run in their half of the third inning and scored four runs in the fifth inning to take control.

With senior Piper Marten on the mound, Minnesota liked its chances.

The Farmington, N.M., native earned all three of the Gophers’ victories on the weekend. Marten pitched both games of Sunday’s doubleheader.

Bernstein said that Marten kept her pitch count low in the first game, and Penn State helped out by swinging on the first pitch.

“We got great pitching from Piper Marten,” she said. “As long as she’s feeling good, we’re in great shape.”

In 24 innings of work on the weekend, Marten recorded 26 strikeouts, upping her career total to 1,025. She allowed 13 hits, walked four batters and allowed two runs – only one earned. With three wins, she improves her season record

to 14-6.

Marten became only the third pitcher in Big Ten history and the 19th at the Division I level to reach the 1,000-strikeout career plateau.

But Marten was quick to praise her offensive support.

“I have great confidence in our hitters,” she said. “Everyone has a lot of confidence in it.”

Minnesota collected 25 hits on the weekend and scored 15 runs in the four wins.

“Our team is hitting the ball really well,” Higginbotham said. “We’re trying to be steady with our approach.”

Higginbotham and sophomore Lindsey Erickson each had two hits, two RBIs and three runs scored over the weekend. Junior Stephanie Sward added four hits, one RBI and two runs of her own.

With the extra-innings’ win Friday, Minnesota improved to 6-2 when playing extra frames this season.

Bernstein said no one on Minnesota doubted it would find a way to win on Friday.

“It just proves how mentally tough and unshakeable this team is,” she said.

After the first weekend of conference play, the Gophers are third in the Big Ten behind Iowa and Michigan, who are both 4-0 in the conference.

Minnesota will stay on the road next weekend, playing at Michigan State on April 10 and a doubleheader at Northwestern on April 11.

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