Softball goes extra innings, splits with Wisconsin

Sam Campanaro

Celebrating the careers of departing seniors and breaking old records were the result of Minnesota’s final regular season softball series.

When all was said and done, a split with Wisconsin (19-26, 7-13 Big Ten) didn’t put a damper on the last home series for the Gophers (36-17-1, 12-8).

Minnesota came out strong with a 1-0 win in the series opener before dropping a 3-2 extra-innings loss in the second game.

Sunday’s defeat was a battle for the Gophers from the first Badgers at bat. Pitcher Lyn Peyer gave up a solo home run to Wisconsin leadoff batter Kris Zacher.

Peyer settled down afterward, giving up only three more hits before being lifted for Piper Marten to start the seventh.

Shortstop Rachel Keeney surprised the Gophers dugout by matching Zacher, hitting the first home run of her career to tie the game at 1-1 in the top of the inning.

“(Badgers’ pitcher Andrea Kirchberg) had been working outside all day,” Keeney said. “I kind of knew she was going to go with an outside pitch because that’s what the umpire was calling.”

After belting her school-record breaking 15th home run of the season the night before, Minnesota leadoff hitter Jordanne Nygren broke her second school record of the weekend with four walks in a row during Sunday’s game.

“That was part of their game plan,” co-head coach Julie Standering said. “The further we go into this season they’re going to take Jordanne Nygren’s stick out of her hands by walking her. It’s crucial who we put behind Jordanne to be able to capitalize on moving her.”

The players responded. In the 10th inning, catcher Anne Thul drove in Nygren from the cleanup spot to utilize the lineup like the Minnesota coaching staff anticipated.

After the Badgers tied the game once again, the game moved to the 11th as umbrellas popped up in the stands. The Gophers were patient at the plate, waiting to see if they could come through with runners on base.

Instead, Wisconsin benefited from three hits in the 12th, including an RBI double by Anastasia Miller to take home the win.

“We played well, we just didn’t get the key hits,” Standering said.

Saturday’s 1-0 Gophers’ win was all about the pitching. Marten and Kirchberg share similar pitching styles, both opting to pitch for strikeouts with a rise ball.

Minnesota anticipated the tough pitching by taking batting practice off of Marten last week.

Marten threw 10 strikeouts to Kirchberg’s four, giving the Gophers more chances to put the ball in play.

“She (Kirchberger) threw a great game too,” Standering said. “But she made one pitch, a mistake to Nygren and (Nygren) capitalized. That’s the way it is when you’ve got two great pitchers out there. Both of them did a phenomenal job but we happened to get the run.”

Kirchberg smiled as she began pitching to Nygren and got heckled from some Minnesota fans. Nygren also took note.

“Then she smiled again and that’s when I hit it out,” Nygren said. “I was like, ‘Yeah in your face. You shouldn’t be smiling on the mound.’ “

After the pair of grueling games, the Gophers will have little time to regroup before the Big Ten tournament this week.

Iowa plays host after winning the Big Ten regular season title. Minnesota will play Illinois in the first round of the tournament on Thursday.

“We’re going to stick to our game plan and what we’ve been doing the whole season,” Standering said.

Sam Campanaro covers softball and welcomes comments at [email protected]