Minnesota completes long road stretch with a 1-1 effort at Purdue

Playing only road games for a significant amount of time would wear most teams down. But for the University of Minnesota softball team, playing on the road since Feb. 20 has made the team stronger coming into Big Ten play. The Gophers shut out Indiana in their first two conference games last week and have continued their improved play by splitting a two-game series at Purdue this weekend, winning 6-4 in the first game and losing a tight one Sunday 2-1 in West Lafayette, Ind. Minnesota (20-19 overall, 3-1 Big Ten) has won six of its last eight as they now head back home for four-straight games at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium over the next week and a half. The four home games will come after the Gophers have played 28-straight road games since the Minnesota Softball Metrodome Classic in mid-February. In its first game against Purdue (18-10 overall, 3-1 Big Ten) on Saturday, Minnesota found itself down early, trailing the Boilermakers 4-0 after three innings. The Gophers and possibly the Big TenâÄôs most solid pitcher in senior Briana Hassett did not start the game well against Purdue, walking in the Boilermakers first two runs of the game and throwing wild pitches to allow the other two runs to score. But Hassett regained her composure in the fourth inning and settled in for three solid innings to finish the game. As Hassett settled down, MinnesotaâÄôs offense woke up. Gophers sophomore third baseman Malisa Barnes extended her hitting-streak to seven games with a single in the fourth, which was followed by a home run by sophomore Natalie Neal âÄî her second in three games âÄî to cut the lead to two. In the fifth, PurdueâÄôs pitcher went through some control issues of her own, hitting Barnes, Neal and senior catcher Shannon Stemper with pitches to eventually bring Minnesota within one run of the lead. After two walks in the fifth, Barnes continued her hot hitting by driving in the game-winning run with a single. âÄúIt was great, the kids kept fighting, Purdue made some mistakes and our kids got some clutch hits,âÄù co-head coach Lisa Bernstein said. Despite early struggles, Hassett allowed only four Purdue hits and struck out seven to pick up the win in un-kind weather conditions. âÄúWe did a great job getting the win today in conditions that werenâÄôt the best,âÄù Bernstein said. âÄúIt was pouring rain, but the umpires were determined to get seven innings in, and IâÄôm really proud of the way we played.âÄù On Sunday Minnesota found itself in another nail-biter with the Boilermakers but could not come back from its early deficit like it did on Saturday and fell to Purdue 2-1. While not as dominant as she has been this season in either game, Hassett had another solid outing on Sunday. The senior pitched six innings with two earned runs on seven hits in the loss, with the Boilermakers gaining their runs in the third inning after a two-run home run. The Gophers offense was stifled on Sunday by Purdue sophomore pitcher Suzie Rzegocki, as Minnesota compiled only five team hits on the day. âÄúWe had some chances later in the ball game, and we didnâÄôt execute,âÄù Bernstein said. âÄúWe didnâÄôt step up in RBI situations.âÄù