Minnesota swept as Hassett eclipses 400 strikeouts

Catcher Shannon Stemper calls off a throw to the plate during Minnesota’s loss to Illinois on Saturday as an Illini runner slides safely into home.

Jules Ameel

Catcher Shannon Stemper calls off a throw to the plate during Minnesota’s loss to Illinois on Saturday as an Illini runner slides safely into home.

Minnesota pitcher Briana Hassett became just the fourth pitcher in Big Ten history with at least 400 strikeouts in a season on Sunday, but that wasnâÄôt enough for the Gophers softball team to avoid being swept by Illinois this weekend. Minnesota (23-30, 6-12 Big Ten) fell 4-5 to the Illini (29-15, 12-7 Big Ten) Saturday and lost 1-2 in eight innings Sunday on senior day at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium. Illinois jumped out to a 3-0 lead Saturday against the Gophers, but Minnesota fought back to tie the game 3-3 after strong fourth and fifth innings. Sophomore Malisa Barnes scored the GophersâÄô first run of the game after a sacrifice fly to right field by Mallory Mitchell. Then, senior catcher Shannon Stemper scored on an Illini error in the next at-bat after Katie DalenâÄôs fly ball to right field was dropped. Barnes then recorded the game-tying RBI in the fifth inning on a base hit to left field, scoring senior Colleen Conway from second. Illinois added two more runs in the sixth inning to push the lead to 5-3, but the Gophers made it close in the final inning. With runners at second and third, Stemper knocked a base hit to center, scoring Conway from third. The ball was bobbled by the center fielder, but MinnesotaâÄôs Sammie Howard had stopped at third at the same time the ball was mishandled and wasnâÄôt able to take advantage and score. âÄúI think if the center fielder picks up the ball clean and with that arm of hers sheâÄôd throw Sammie out by 30 feet,âÄù Minnesota co-head coach Lisa Bernstein said. âÄúWhen youâÄôre rounding third you donâÄôt know that sheâÄôs going to kick the ball like that.âÄù Unfortunately for the Gophers, that was as close as the tying run came to scoring. Heidi Carls fouled out in the next at bat for the final out of the game. On Sunday, Hassett struck out seven Illini batters to bring her season strikeout total to 401, but it was Illinois freshman pitcher Monica Perry that picked up the victory. The game went into extra innings tied 1-1 after the Gophers couldnâÄôt capitalize on a threat in the bottom of the seventh inning. Minnesota loaded the bases with one out but it wasnâÄôt able to get a runner across the plate. Carls was thrown out at home on a fielderâÄôs choice after a ground ball by Aubrey Davis and Conway lined out to end the threat. In the eighth, the Illini struck quick. Danielle Zymkowitz scored from second after an error by Howard on a sharply-hit ground ball by Hollie Pinchback. Perry then sent the Gophers down 1-2-3 in the bottom of the eighth to end the game. âÄúThat young pitcher Perry did a nice job for them,âÄù Bernstein said. âÄúShe was able to hit her spots and move the ball around well.âÄù Perry held MinnesotaâÄôs one through four hitters to a combined 2-for-16 at the plate on Sunday. The Gophers will try to counter a five-game losing streak when they close out their regular season next weekend with a two-game road series against Iowa, but Bernstein says motivating her team wonâÄôt be an issue coming off this rough patch. âÄúMotivation is completely internal. You canâÄôt dangle carrots in front of most kidâÄôs faces and have them want to perform just because of that; it comes from inside,âÄù Bernstein said. âÄúWe just havenâÄôt had that thing to push us over the top.âÄù