Gophers take both games of midweek doubleheader

Mark Heise

The Minnesota softball team did just what it was supposed to Wednesday night, breezing past Wisconsin-Green Bay 5-2 and 9-1 in a midweek doubleheader at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium.

The Phoenix (14-21 overall, 6-7 Horizon League) led just twice all night, as the Gophers combined good pitching with timely hitting to pick up the sweep.

“We knew we had to come out here and grab a couple of wins before taking on Wisconsin,” senior Megan Higginbotham said. “We came out here, played some good ball and I think this series put us on the right track.”

Despite a tough time locating the strike zone, sophomore pitcher Katie Dalen shut down the Phoenix in the first game, allowing just one earned run in the 5-2 win.

Minnesota (23-21, 3-8 Big Ten) gave up a pair of runs in the first inning, but Higginbotham answered in the bottom of the inning, powering a leadoff home run over the left field foul pole.

Senior Mandy Valadez tied the game with a homer to centerfield in the fourth, and sophomore Shannon Stemper’s RBI double off the base of the wall handed the Gophers a 3-2 lead.

Minnesota picked up a pair of insurance runs in the fifth, rallying with back-to-back RBI singles from Valadez and junior Amber Nelsen.

Dalen walked six, but picked up the win to improve her record to 7-7.

The Gophers appeared to have packed up their bats after the first game, as the team collected just one hit over the first four innings of the nightcap.

Senior Casey Wheeler changed that in the fifth, leading off with a double. It was the first of five consecutive Minnesota hits, including a game-tying RBI single from Heidi Carls, a two-RBI double from pinch hitting senior Lisa Parks and a towering two-run blast by Higginbotham.

Already leading 5-1, the Gophers piled on the runs in the sixth as well. Sophomore Lauren Pockl, a Green Bay native, connected for a two-run homer, the first of her career. It scored junior Sila Fernandez, who had collected her first career hit just two pitches earlier.

Minnesota kept the inning going, loading the bases and adding a run as sophomore Colleen Conway slapped the ball past a drawn in infield.

With the bases still loaded, Valadez ended the game, lifting a sacrifice fly to right-center and putting the Gophers ahead 9-1 to put the eight-run rule into effect.

“Today was a team effort,” coach Lisa Bernstein said. “People came in and did their job, and we were able to get people in who have been working their tails off all season. It’s great to see it all come together.”

With the sweep out of the way, Bernstein said the team is already looking towards this weekends’ matchup against Wisconsin. And with a convincing win over UW-Green Bay, Pockl said momentum is in Minnesota’s favor.

“A pair of wins like that builds a lot of momentum going into a big series this weekend,” she said. “Hopefully, we can keep it going.