Softball avoids sweep in first Big Ten series

Head coach Jessica Allister picked up her 50th win in her second season at the helm of the Gophers.

Betsy Helfand

 

Gophers head softball coach Jessica Allister won her 50th game with the program in her second year Sunday. Minnesota opened the Big Ten schedule this weekend against the team it closed with last year, Illinois.

The Gophers split two close, low-scoring games last year in Minneapolis.

This year was a little different: Illinois swept Minnesota in a Saturday doubleheader, but the Gophers roared back with a win Sunday.

Saturday’s games, like last year’s, were both relatively low-scoring and tightly contested.

The first game of the weekend was a 2-0 pitchers’ duel between Gophers ace Sara Moulton and Pepper Gay.

Moulton gave up two runs in the first inning of the game.

Nikki Simpson, the Illini’s leadoff hitter, reached first on a dropped third strike, advanced on a wild pitch, and scored after a hit and subsequent error by centerfielder Bree Blanchette.

Illinois scored another run on a hit that inning, and a 2-0 lead was more than enough for Gay, who held the Gophers to just two hits in the game.

Gay nearly no-hit the Gophers; third baseman Kaitlyn Richardson broke up Gay’s no-hitter in the sixth inning with a double.

Minnesota threatened to score with a walk and a hit in the seventh but couldn’t plate a run.

The Illini won in walk-off fashion 4-3 in the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader, after the Gophers had fought back to tie the game in the top of the seventh on a single by Alex Davis.

Minnesota took a two-run lead in the first inning Sunday when Richardson hit her seventh home run of the season and a combination of Alissa Koch and Moulton held the Illini scoreless until the fifth inning.

But Moulton surrendered a two-run home run in the fifth inning. After a dropped third strike, an illegal pitch, a groundout and an error, Moulton coughed up the go-ahead run as well.

Gay was not nearly as dominant Sunday as she was in the series opener, as the Gophers scored three runs off of her in just two innings of work en route to a 14-4 victory.

Minnesota scored eight runs in an offensive outpouring in the seventh inning.

Left fielder Erica Meyer led off the inning with a solo shot to right center, and second baseman Erika Smyth followed that with a home run of her own.

Later in the inning, Meyer hit a three-run home run. Meyer and Smyth combined to drive in nine of the Gophers’ 14 runs.

Madie Eckstrom also drove in three runs in the game.

After 28 games, Minnesota will finally play its first home series of the year next weekend against Nebraska.