Gophers stretch win streak to four with sweep

by Mark Heise

The Minnesota softball team got exactly what it wanted out of its trip to Green Bay.

The Gophers swept Wisconsin-Green Bay in their doubleheader Tuesday, bumping their record back above .500 with 2-0 and 5-0 wins.

“It was great,” senior third baseman Mandy Valadez said. “We did exactly what we wanted – we came in, picked up a couple of wins, and now we’re on our way back to get ready for the next game.”

Senior pitcher Rene Konderik was lights-out for Minnesota (17-16 overall, 2-4 Big Ten) in game one, scattering just three hits over seven innings to shut out the Phoenix.

Keeping Green Bay (9-14, 1-4 Horizon League) off the scoreboard was key, as the Gophers only advanced one runner past first base over the first six innings, failing to score as well.

But the bottom of the order came through in the seventh, as junior outfielder Colleen Powers drew a two-out walk, and junior outfielder Chrissy Sward followed with a single. Both runners scored as senior shortstop Megan Higginbotham continued her hot streak, tripling to the right-centerfield gap.

Konderik ran into some trouble in the bottom of the seventh, as the Phoenix put runners on second and third with nobody out. But she coaxed three ground balls out of the next three hitters, picking up her first shutout of the season.

“All year long, we’ve been practicing these pressure situations,” Higginbotham said. “Rene actually turned to us and said, ‘Hey, nothing we’re not used to, right guys?’ It was actually kind of comfortable for us, especially the way Rene was pitching throughout the game.”

Minnesota came out swinging in the second game, leaving the bases loaded in the first inning before breaking through in the third.

Higginbotham started things off with a single up the middle, and sophomore second baseman Colleen Conway bunted to try and move Higginbotham to second.

The bunt went down the third baseline, and a throwing error allowed Conway to reach second base while Higginbotham moved up to third.

Valadez singled home a run, and senior Katie Meyer followed suit. A second Phoenix error allowed Valadez to score, handing the Gophers a 3-0 lead after inning No. 3.

“When the other team gives you more opportunities, it’s always great for your offense,” coach Lisa Bernstein said. “It gives you a little bit of momentum and energy, and the kids took advantage of that.”

Sophomore pitcher Katie Dalen took the lead and ran with it, pitching a seven-inning, four-hit shutout with eight strikeouts.

Minnesota added an insurance run in the fifth, and again in the seventh, as Conway scored on a sacrifice fly from Meyer, and Higginbotham scored on Valadez’s groundout to third.

The sweep increased Minnesota’s win streak to four, allowing the Gophers to springboard into a six-game homestand.

“We’re definitely looking forward to it,” Higginbotham said. “We’ve got (North Dakota State) Thursday, and we’re looking forward to Northwestern on Sunday. Hopefully the wins will just keep coming for us.”