Behind clutch plays, finally a sweep

Freshman pitcher Sara Moulton tied the Minnesota record for wins and shutouts in a season Wednesday against Northwestern.

Whether itâÄôs two games or one man, thereâÄôs no minimum size or scale necessary to embody the classic saying: âÄúWeâÄôre going streaking!âÄù

Though it wasnâÄôt in the more tawdry context, the same streaking enthusiasm was likely present in the Minnesota locker room Wednesday evening after the team swept a double-header against Northwestern. The Gophers softball team (30-21, 8-8 Big Ten) finally put together its first winning streak in the Big Ten this year, even though it had previously won six out of seven conference series openers.

After a 3-0 win to start the day, sophomore catcher Kari Dorle hit a go-ahead home run in the top of the seventh to give the Gophers a 4-3 lead entering the final half inning. Freshman Sara Moulton shut the door, getting the final out with runners on the corners in the bottom of the seventh to secure the victory.

Head coach Jessica Allister said she knew the deciding home run was gone when it hit bat, but Dorle said she couldnâÄôt even see her long ball fly over the fence because of the sun.

âÄúI was kind of looking for that inside pitch,âÄù Dorle said. âÄúThe sun was right there, I only heard the ping of the bat.âÄù

âÄúRight then and there I knew we were going to win the game,âÄù Moulton said of DorleâÄôs homerun. She followed through, finishing out the game for her second win on the day, giving her a school record-tying 27 wins on the year. The two wins also gave Minnesota its first Big Ten sweep since Indiana in March 2009.

Minnesota started out the double-header with its eighth consecutive win in a series opener, non-conference included.

The Gophers got their first run of the game on a bases-loaded hit by pitch in the second inning and put up two more in the fourth.

It turned out that first run was all the offense Minnesota would need, as Moulton picked up her 14th shutout on the year, also tying a school record. The victory was MinnesotaâÄôs first win in Evanston since 2004.

The second game also started out in MinnesotaâÄôs favor. Natalie Neal kicked off the scoring in the second with a home run to left-center. The ball couldnâÄôt hide behind the sun this time, as Neal said she knew she had her second long ball of the season right away.

The Gophers added another run in the inning, but this game wouldnâÄôt be as easy as the first.

Northwestern tied up the game 2-2 on a two-run single by senior Michelle Batts. Minnesota took the lead right back with a run in the fourth, only to give it up again on an RBI groundout by Adrienne Monka.

But it was all the damage Monka, the No. 2 hitter in the country, could do on the day. She finished the games 0-2 with five walks and was hit by a pitch.

âÄúWe decided that we were going to make someone else beat us,âÄù Allister said about NorthwesternâÄôs slugger, whose average is north of .500.

The score stayed tied until Dorle finally pushed Minnesota ahead for good with her ninth home run of the year.

The Gophers now have 30 wins in the season, the most theyâÄôve put together since they won 33 in 2004, a number they can still pass. TheyâÄôll have to face national powerhouse Michigan next.

âÄúWe havenâÄôt talked about it yet,âÄù Allister said about their weekend matchup with the Wolverines. âÄúWeâÄôre focused on today and enjoying today.âÄù

Even if Michigan is ranked No. 2 in the country, theyâÄôll have to deal with a Minnesota team thatâÄôs coming off its most inspired win of the season, and a freshman pitcher whoâÄôs on the precipice of rewriting the GophersâÄô record books.