Softball team takes sweep on Michigan trip

Already, the second week of the Big Ten season feels like an eternity.
The Gophers softball team got swept out of its comfort zone last weekend. On Monday they bussed five hours to Green Bay. Tuesday they came back when the wind chill was barely above freezing.
Friday was supposed to be a doubleheader against Michigan State, but after a wild 13-12 loss to the Spartans, the second game got canned thanks to the weather.
Stuck facing No. 11 Michigan on Saturday and Sunday, weather clamped an iron fist on Saturday, forcing a doubleheader Sunday at noon, followed by a 6:30 p.m. flight out of Michigan.
Stuck with another chaotic weekend, they stuck around. The Gophers (22-18 overall, 0-6 Big Ten) weren’t brilliant, but they were resilient.
The conference-favorite Wolverines (27-7, 6-1) were stretched to the gills Sunday, winning game one on an unearned run in the fifth inning. The source: a walk, wild pitch, sacrifice, infield single and an error.
Courtesy of Wolverines pitcher Marissa Young, that was it for scoring. She gave Minnesota two hits and two walks, striking out nine in the complete game shutout. Young, who is not even the ace of Carol Hutchins’ staff, is now a gaudy 10-1.
That “ace” role belongs to Marie Barda, last year’s Big Ten pitcher of the year. Michigan’s 4-1 win in the second game is yet another display of why she earned that honor. Barda’s typical, two-hit, one-run performance let to a complete game and a 10-4 record for the season.
Freshman Minnesota ace Angie Recknor dropped to 17-18 on the season, having lost six in a row. Meagan Hautala (5-1) took the loss against the Spartans.
In that game, the two teams combined for 23 runs and 31 hits. The only inning a team didn’t score was the sixth, but the Spartans combined for 10 runs in the third, fourth and fifth innings, turning a 4-2 Minnesota lead into a 12-10 Spartans advantage.
Still, the Gophers kept things within reach in all three games, but instead of having a chance to build on that, they now have eight straight nonconference games in the next week and a half.
The question remains whether that stretch will merciful or detrimental to the team.
— Mark Heller
Women’s golf
Junior Katie Bakken has taken the reins of a young Minnesota women’s golf team. Over the weekend at the Indiana Invitational, Bakken posted the team’s best score, a trend that started this spring.
Bakken carded a 7-over-par 155 to earn a fourth-place finish and help the Gophers tie for seventh with Purdue at 655. The junior was just two strokes back of tournament winner Theresa McDermott of Indiana.
“She was doing about the same thing she’s been doing all spring,” coach Mellisa Arthur said. “She’s hitting the ball well and has a lot of confidence in her game.”
The Hoosiers nabbed the team title with 637 strokes behind McDermott and the second-place finish of teammate Natalie Tucker. Tucker fired a two-day total of 154, tying with Wisconsin’s Allie Blomquist.
Tucker was the leader after the first day, Saturday, which was shortened from two rounds to one due to inclement weather. With Tucker in first and McDermott in a tie for third, the Hoosiers were on top, three strokes ahead of Ohio State, heading into Sunday.
Meanwhile, Minnesota was in ninth, eighth among the 10 Big Ten schools competing at the 15-team tournament. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing for the young Gophers. Arthur says she knows her team isn’t a Big Ten contender, but it is capable of improving, maybe more so than other teams in the conference.
“They are young, and have a lot of ability. Now it comes down to believing in themselves,” Arthur said. “Going in to the season and knowing we were young and losing the senior leadership from last year, my goal is to finish in the top half of the conference.
“We’ve done a pretty good job, we’ve beaten the Big Ten teams I think we can beat, Michigan, Illinois and Penn State. I feel good heading into the next two weeks.”
Minnesota faces tough Big Ten competition the rest of the month. Next weekend, the Gophers head to Iowa for the University of Iowa tournament on April 15-16. Later comes an important Ohio State tournament, which hosts most of the Big Ten teams, and the Big Ten tournament at the end of the month.

— Sarah Mitchell