Gophers rebound to earn a split with Concordia-St. Paul

by Noah Seligman

In preparation for a doubleheader against Division II Concordia-St. Paul, Minnesota’s softball team looked to score runs early in the game.

The Gophers (25-14, 5-3 Big Ten) did just that, but they had to wait for the second game to do it.

After being shut out 1-0 and only managing four hits in the first game, Minnesota pounded out four hits and scored three runs in the first inning of game two en route to an 8-5 victory.

“This entire season is a process,” co-coach Lisa Bernstein said. “We’re trying to stay consistent and keep learning.”

In the second game, for the first time in the evening, the Gophers were able to get their lead runner on in the bottom of the first inning.

Junior Stephanie Sward reached on an infield single and freshman Tonya Mitchell followed with a bunt. A passed ball moved the runners into scoring position.

Freshman catcher Megan Higginbotham then laced a single into center field to drive in the first of her four RBIs in the game.

Although Mitchell was tagged out at the plate, it was a positive start for Minnesota.

“It’s always nice getting that first runner on,” Higginbotham said. “It’s been our game plan all year, and it’s working out for us.”

Higginbotham and junior Rachel Keeney scored later in the inning to give the Gophers an early lead.

Minnesota built on its advantage, adding two more runs in its half of the second inning to take a 5-1 lead.

But the Bears wouldn’t go down without a fight, and they rallied for four runs in the top of the fourth inning to tie the game.

That’s when Minnesota came back and sent a message.

“Everyone went more into their bear-down mode,” senior Hailee Nanchy said. “Everyone’s claws came back out.”

Sward led off the bottom half of the fourth with an infield single.

After Mitchell advanced Sward to second, the big bats woke up for the Gophers.

Higginbotham slapped a single to center that sneaked under center fielder Jennifer Pozzani’s glove. Sward scored from second, and Higginbotham made it around as well, but not without some confusion as she rounded third.

“Coach (Standering) was sending me, and I was stuck in the middle when she said ‘stop,’ “Higginbotham said. “I didn’t want to get stuck and get rung up at third.”

The official scoring was a single with a three-base error, and it gave the Gophers the lead for good.

Nanchy doubled into the left-center field gap later in the inning to score sophomore Valerie Alston from first for the final margin of victory.

“After a game like this, everybody gets to feel good,” Nanchy said.

Nanchy went 1-for-2 with two RBIs, and Higginbotham was 3-for-4, with two runs scored to go along with her four RBIs.

Junior Lyn Peyer pitched four innings of relief to earn the win for Minnesota.

Freshman Mandy Valadez started game two for the Gophers but was chased after three innings of work. She was tagged with all five of the Bears’ runs.

The Gophers’ other freshman hurler, Rene Konderik, earned her first career complete game in the first half of the double header in a losing effort.

Konderik allowed nine hits, while striking out four and walking one. The only run was unearned.

“It was good for them,” Bernstein said of her freshman pitchers. “They did an OK job. They still have a lot to work on.”

Minnesota returns to conference play this weekend when it hosts Purdue and Indiana.