On Friday evening at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium, Minnesota’s softball team was protecting a 2-0 lead in the top of the seventh inning.
With two outs and a 0-2 count on Iowa’s Sarah Thomson, Minnesota pitcher Piper Marten was one strike away from her fifth career no-hitter.
On the next pitch, Thomson hit a slow groundball to first baseman Hailee Nanchy, who stepped on the bag to record the final out.
Marten turned toward the Gophers dugout and strolled off the rubber expressionless.
“She’s all business,” co-coach Julie Standering said. “Piper is a perfectionist. She sets very high standards.”
The only thing that kept the Farmington, N.M., native from her third career perfect outing were the two mistakes she made in the game.
After retiring the first 11 batters she faced, Marten hit Iowa shortstop Stacy May with a pitch to end her perfect game after 3 2/3 innings.
In the top of the seventh inning, Marten committed a fielding error accounting for the second Hawkeyes base runner of the game.
Marten did not walk a batter and recorded nine strikeouts in the game. She threw 89 pitches, 63 for strikes. Marten faced 23 out of a minimum 21 hitters.
Catcher Megan Higginbotham said that she and Marten were in sync and that getting ahead of batters was key.
“Piper was hitting her spots really well,” Higginbotham said. “That always helps when a pitcher gets up in the count.”
Marten sent the Hawkeyes down in order in the first three innings and fifth and sixth frames as well.
The Gophers broke through for two runs in the bottom of the second providing the only offensive support Marten needed.
Nanchy led off with a single. Valerie Alston then bunted pinch runner Christina Zimmerman to second. Rachel Keeney lined the next pitch to left field to open the scoring.
After Lindsey Erickson bunted Keeney over to second, designated hitter Rene Konderik hit a frozen rope off the base of the left field wall for a stand-up double to score Keeney.
Marten hit for the first time since Feb. 29 and tapped a slow roller past the third baseman for her second hit of the season.
“It was great to get back in there,” she said. “I really like it.”
But it was the job she did in the pitcher’s circle and not the batter’s box that impressed her teammates and coaches.
“It was a phenomenal pitching job by Piper Marten,” Standering said. “Not only did she pitch a great game, but her defense played great behind her.”
Marten threw four no-hitters – including two perfect games – during the 2002 season. Her performance on Friday was the first no-hitter since she didn’t allow a hit May 2, 2002, against Wisconsin-Green Bay.
While Marten can add her name to the record book again, she was just happy to get a win against the second-place team in the conference.
“Things go your way that day,” Marten said. “It’s hard to get a no-hitter. I’m glad it happened in Big Ten play.”