With the halo of not having a Big Ten win for the first two-thirds of the season encircling them, the Gophers softball team sought some comfort out east. Comfort, of course, meaning wins.
They found a way to kick up their shoes, winning the bookends of a four-game weekend in the steel belt.
This spring, Penn State (29-12 overall, 8-3 Big Ten) has been a hotbed for a hot softball team. After an 8-2 start to the Big Ten, the Lions trailed only Michigan and Iowa, the two ranked teams in the conference.
“No, I didn’t think Penn State would be on top of the Big Ten,” said third baseman Michelle Bennett, “but the Big Ten is crazy this year.”
After splitting two games at Ohio State, rain forced Minnesota (27-24, 2-9) to wait until Sunday to play in Happy Valley.
Another game, another weather problem.
So they played a doubleheader Sunday, and Jackie Kalp’s one-hitter disposed of the Gophers with incredible ease. Jordanne Nygren’s fourth-inning single was all of Minnesota’s offense in a 1-0 loss.
Rather than wilt and potentially lose the two-game series outright, Minnesota opted to swing the bats instead. They also granted permission to Penn State helping their cause.
Already up 2-0 in the fourth, Minnesota loaded the bases with two outs. Rightfielder Veronica Roberts chopped one in front of Kalp, who proceeded to throw the ball down into the right field corner. All three Gophers scored and the speedy Roberts stopped at third. Angel Braden singled her in to make it 6-0.
“It was basically luck,” Roberts said. “I hit it, they threw it away, we got runs.”
Turns out the Gophers needed every one of those runs. Freshman ace Angie Recknor (22-23) hit a wall in the sixth inning, giving up four runs. Meagan Hautala got out of a two-on, two-out jam to end the sixth. She gave up a run in the seventh, but held on for her first collegiate save.
“Angel Braden has been hitting the ball well all year, right at people,” said co-coach Julie Standering. “Now she’s getting positive results. We played very aggressively and got solid pitching. We’re coming home very proud of how our team played.”
On Friday the Gophers split a pair of blowouts, winning 8-2 and losing 9-1. Minnesota got home runs from Braden and shortstop Shelly Nichols in game one, getting good offensive production from five different players. Such was the case in their win at Penn State, and a key factor in determining their record.
“We’ve been consistent with getting different ballplayers to come up big,” Standering said. “Whether it’s been clutch hits or any other key plays.”
Said Bennett: “Overall we were good. We came back from two losses and took one from a top team.”
Mark Heller covers softball and welcomes comments at [email protected]