In split with Iowa, Minn. matches 2010 Big Ten wins

It took the Gophers the entire conference schedule last season to reach two wins; this year it took them six games.

 

The Gophers softball team (24-17, 2-4 Big Ten) didnâÄôt waste any time snapping its three-game Big Ten losing streak, beating Iowa 4-2 in the first game of WednesdayâÄôs double-header before dropping the second 2-1.

It was the first win for Minnesota over the Hawkeyes since 2008 and first against them at home since 2004. The Gophers also reached two conference wins on the year, tying their total from 2010.

The front of the double-header was a game of fours for Minnesota, as it scored all four runs in the fourth inning on four hits and four walks. With the wind blowing in from right field, the game turned out to be a small-ball battle with neither team registering an extra base hit. Other than a line drive that curved just outside the left field foul pole by the GophersâÄô Kari Dorle, nothing was hit especially hard.

Coming off being named Big Ten freshman of the week for the third time this season, Sara Moulton picked up her 21st win of the season. She kept most of her pitches on the outside of the plate, earning her 10th complete game in 11 starts.

Iowa was able to score a couple runs in the top of the sixth, but Moulton bore down, struck out Michelle Zoeller and picked Brianna Luna off first to get out of the inning. She also dominated the bottom of the Hawkeyes lineup, as IowaâÄôs six through nine hitters went a combined 0-for-11 with five strikeouts.

Moulton reached double-digit strikeouts for the third straight game, striking out 10 Hawkeyes to give her 246 on the year. The Gophers only had 298 as a team last season.

Minnesota got some help on offense from the very bottom of its order, as nine-hitter Bree Blanchette picked up her third multi-hit game of the year, going 2-for-2 with a walk and a stolen base. Blanchette said that she was feeling confident in the box, a good sign for the center fielder whoâÄôs hitting just .200 this season.

The Gophers defense struggled early in game two, committing three errors in the first three innings, the last one a botched third-inning rundown between third and home, giving Iowa its first run. A wild pitch plated a second run in the third, and Minnesota found itself in an early 2-0 hole.

âÄúThose errors were kind of a reality check for us,âÄù first basemen Malisa Barnes said.

Barnes brought the team back quickly, however, launching a two-out homerun over the right field wall in the third inning to cut the HawkeyesâÄô lead in half, to 2-1.

The Gophers had another chance to score in the fifth when Iowa pitcher Chelsea Lyon gave up a pair of two-out walks. Second baseman Dannie Skrove sent a hard line drive to the gap, but Hawkeyes center fielder Ashley Akers got a good jump on it off the bat and stole what would have been a game-tying double.

The rest of the game was frustrating for Minnesota, as BarnesâÄô homerun turned out to be the teamâÄôs only hit, and Iowa earned the series split. Lyon âÄî who had given up 25 hits in her four Big Ten starts this year âÄî was hit hard at some points during the game but stymied Minnesota with the help of solid defense behind her.

Junior pitcher Alissa Koch had to deal with runners in scoring position for five of the six innings she pitched and still didnâÄôt allow an earned run.

âÄúWe canâÄôt ask our pitchers for anything more than that,âÄù head coach Jessica Allister said.

Minnesota will have another Big Ten home matchup against Penn State this weekend. The Gophers have split their season series against the Nittany Lions the last two years, though they only scored a total of seven runs in the four matchups.

Penn State went into its double-header against Kent State on Wednesday with an 18-16 overall record, 4-4 in the Big Ten. The first game is at 1 p.m., Saturday, and the second at 11 a.m., Sunday, at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium.