Gophers earn tourney berth

Minn.’s 2-1 win against the Buckeyes secured its first Big Ten tourney berth since 2004.

Mark Heise

With snow falling, and Frank Sinatra’s “White Christmas” playing over the loudspeaker, the Minnesota softball team clinched a spot in its first Big Ten Tournament since 2004.

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Wisconsin-Green Bay
what: Softball
when: 4 p.m., Wednesday
where: Minneapolis

The Gophers (24-15 overall, 7-7 Big Ten) played through the less-than-perfect weather Sunday, splitting with Ohio State in a two-game doubleheader at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium, winning 2-1 and losing 5-4.

Minnesota hadn’t beaten the Buckeyes since 2004, breaking an 0-for-7 streak despite walking 17 over two games.

“We had a little trouble finding the zone, and it was frustrating for everybody involved,” coach Lisa Bernstein said. “But we battled back and hung in there.”

Junior pitcher Briana Hassett showed a rare lapse of control in the first game, walking eight batters over seven innings.

But the righty fought through the struggles, giving up just two hits and allowing one run to survive the wild pitching.

Minnesota played errorless softball, and quickly erased Ohio State’s 1-0 first-inning lead.

The Gophers scored both of their runs in the bottom of the first, as senior third baseman Colleen Conway singled on a bunt and scored on freshman first baseman Malisa Barnes’ third career home run.

“Like we’ve said all year, there’s a new hero everyday, and she definitely pulled through for us,” senior outfielder Casey Wheeler said.

Conway led the team with two of Minnesota’s five hits as the Gophers held on for the 2-1 win.

Junior pitcher Katie Dalen pitched four solid innings in the second game, giving up just two runs despite walking five.

Minnesota, meanwhile, put up three runs in the early innings, scoring on RBI singles from seniors Sila Fernandez and Amber Nelson along with Conway.

Coming on in relief, Hassett walked home the tying run in the sixth inning, but retired the next two batters to end a bases-loaded threat.

The Gophers answered in the bottom of the inning, retaking the lead on freshman Natalie Neal’s pinch-hit double. Neal drove the first pitch she saw down the left field line, scoring freshman shortstop Brianna Sudenga from second.

Ohio State (31-22, 7-13) responded in the seventh however, as the Buckeyes took their first lead of the game on a two-run double, to win the nightcap 5-4.

Bernstein said despite playing well, Minnesota just gave the Buckeyes too many opportunities at the plate, and junior catcher Shannon Stemper agreed.

“We gave them too many chances, but we also relinquished too many of our own chances,” she said. “We should have done a little better offensively today.”