Minnesota struggles to score, loses five-inning affair to Wildcats

The second game of the scheduled doubleheader was canceled due to rain.

Mark Heise

It almost never happened.

With rain pounding down during the final at bat of the fifth inning, Minnesota softball junior outfielder Amber Nelson popped out to shallow left field Sunday.

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Michigan
when: 5 p.m. Friday
where: Ann Arbor, Mich.

It was the last pitch of the game and the doubleheader, as after nearly two and a half hours of waiting, the game was called and Northwestern was credited with a 7-1 five-inning win.

“I think this is the first time in my 16 years of coaching that we’ve lost this many games to bad weather,” coach Lisa

Bernstein said. “It’s definitely frustrating, but what can we do? It’s uncontrollable.”

Minnesota (19-17 overall, 2-5 Big Ten) drew first blood against the 10th-ranked Wildcats, without collecting a hit. Senior Lisa Parks walked to lead off the second inning before junior Sila Fernandez entered to pinch-run.

Senior Katie Meyer advanced Fernandez to second base with a sacrifice bunt, and Fernandez went to third on an error by the pitcher. A wild pitch brought the run home, handing the Gophers a 1-0 lead.

Sophomore pitcher Katie Dalen pitched herself into and out of trouble over the first three innings, stranding four runners in scoring position.

But it caught up with her in the fourth, as Northwestern finally broke through with a one-out, run-scoring, Texas-league single.

The hit opened the floodgates as the Wildcats (36-10, 11-3) piled on seven runs in the fourth to take the lead, which held through the remainder of the game.

Despite the loss, junior outfielder Chrissy Sward said she noticed definite improvement.

“I think we made more contact and saw the ball better than last year,” she said of facing Northwestern. “If we get another chance, we just might be able to pick them apart the next time around.”

Senior Megan Higginbotham collected the only Minnesota hit, slapping a single through the right side of the infield.

After the game, both Bernstein and Higginbotham had praise for the Wildcat’s pitcher, senior first-team All-American Eileen Canney.

“She received All-American honors for a reason, she throws hard and has the ability to mix things up,” Higginbotham said. “But we made the adjustment the second time through the lineup. It would have been a good matchup had we continued to play.”

With another conference game lost to the weather, the rest of the matchups have become even more crucial. To reach the Big Ten tournament, the Gophers must rank in the top eight in conference play.

Ranked ninth and .031 percentage points shy of catching Purdue for eighth place, Minnesota’s Big Ten games have nearly become must-wins.

“Luckily everything goes off of percentages,” Bernstein said. “But we need to get in the win column to improve ours, which means we need to finish strong over our last six conference games. We’ve got our work cut out for us.”