Gophers NCAA Tournament hopes fall with extra-inning loss

by Kent Erdahl

Minnesota’s softball season came to an abrupt finish with one swing of the bat.

The Gophers were tied 2-2 with Northwestern in the bottom of the 11th inning during the first round of the Big Ten Tournament on Saturday, May 15th, when senior pitcher Piper Marten delivered the 1-1 pitch to Northwestern’s Kristen Amegin with two runners on base.

Amegin ripped the pitch over the centerfield wall and gave the Wildcats a 5-2 win with the walk-off homerun. The blast eliminated the Gophers from the tournament and crushed their bid to make the NCAA Tournament.

“We were very disappointed to end with a walk-off homerun,” co-head coach Lisa Bernstein said. “You don’t want to end a game that way and definitely not the season. It’s tough to take.”

Minnesota was in a good position when the game began the day before.

The Gophers had a 2-0 lead through the first 6 1/2 innings, but heavy rain and sloppy conditions at the field in Ann Arbor, Mich., caused the rest of the game to be delayed until Saturday morning.

Northwestern tied the game quickly Saturday morning. After scoring the first run on a ground out in the bottom of the seventh, Northwestern tied the game when Amegin delivered a two-out single with a runner on third.

Amegin finished with three hits and four RBIs to outshine Marten, who recorded 10 strikeouts, but gave up four earned runs.

“It was a very bad way to go out,” Marten said. “It’s not a game you want to end your season on.”

The loss put the Gophers at 33-24 on the season, and it dropped them to below .500 in Big Ten play.

Bernstein said the loss signified what plagued the team throughout the season – poor run support because of a lack of timely hitting with runners in scoring position.

“You’ve got to be able to play well from February to May, and we were too inconsistent,” Bernstein said. “We just weren’t able to ever shut the door on people throughout the season and that translated into the Big Ten tourney.”

The missed opportunities were especially evident against Northwestern. Despite five different Minnesota batters recording at least two hits, the team only produced two runs and left 16 runners on base.

In the game, the Gophers were 2-for-16 with runners in scoring position.

“We know we had our opportunities to win, but it will drive us throughout next season,” Bernstein said. “We know what we need to improve on, and everyone will be a year older.”

Next year Minnesota loses only three seniors – Marten, Andrea Smith and Hailee Nanchy – and the team returns eight of nine starters.

Bernstein said she looks forward to the experienced core of returning players. She also said the team will add more talent to fill in the gaps, including the void left by Marten.

“It’s going to be tough to see her go,” Bernstein said. “She had a great career and was a great leader. We need people coming in that will be ready to get after it when they have the opportunity.”

Gophers honored

Marten and freshman catcher Megan Higginbotham were named to the All-Mideast Region First Team by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association.

Marten also received third-team All-Big Ten honors. She earned All-Big Ten honors in each of her four seasons.

“I looked at the regional award a little more highly than the Big Ten awards,” Marten said. “Mostly because I didn’t expect it.”