Gophers put it all together, earn sweep

Timely hitting with runners in scoring position aided in 3-1 and 5-1 wins.

by Noah Seligman

It all came together Tuesday evening for Minnesota’s softball team at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium.

The Gophers controlled every area of the game to sweep a double-header against Wisconsin-Green Bay by scores of 3-1 and 5-1.

Minnesota (30-19) came up with timely hitting with runners in scoring position, played solid defense and got two strong pitching performances to earn its first series sweep since April 4.

“We played well,” sophomore Valerie Alston said. “We were a lot more relaxed (Tuesday).”

In both games the Gophers scored in their half of the first and third innings.

In the second game Minnesota jumped out to a three-run lead after one inning.

Stephanie Sward and Tonya Mitchell drew back-to-back walks to start the half inning. Megan Higginbotham followed up by doubling off the center field wall to bring in Sward and Mitchell. Higginbotham then hustled home to score on a sacrifice bunt by Hailee Nanchy.

The Phoenix put up their only run in the top of the second on a sacrifice fly by Anna Nieznanski.

The Gophers answered back in the bottom of the third. Higginbotham hit a stand-up double that drove in Mitchell.

Alston hit an RBI single to right field in the fifth inning that brought Mitchell around to close the scoring.

“It was nice to get some hits out there,” co-coach Lisa Bernstein said. “We executed; we moved runners with our short game.”

Minnesota freshman pitcher Rene Konderik picked up the winning, moving her record to 6-2 on the season.

Konderik retired the Phoenix in order in every inning except for the second. She struck out eight in a complete game effort allowing three hits and walking none while facing only 24 of a minimum 21 batters. The only Wisconsin-Green Bay run was unearned.

In the first game senior hurler Piper Marten earned the win, going the distance by striking out 11 and giving up only two hits while walking one.

The win moved her record to 18-10, and gave her 85 career victories, passing Steph Klaviter for first on the all-time list. And it was news to Marten.

“It was not something I strived for,” she said. “I didn’t know until someone told me.”

Marten said she was using the nonconference midweek game as a workout. She wanted to keep her pitch count under the century mark.

Marten used 97 pitches, throwing 70 of them for strikes to frustrate the Phoenix.

“I had them swinging at a lot of things that weren’t strikes,” she said.

The dominating performance in the circle in both games made the job easier for the players in support.

“Most of the balls put in play were either pop-ups or foul balls,” Alston said. “Those are the easiest to defend.”

The Phoenix did strike first in the opening half inning in game one to take an early lead.

But the advantage was short-lived as the Gophers responded with a run of their own in the bottom half of the first inning.

Alston hit a two-RBI triple in the bottom of the third inning high off the right field wall plating Mitchell and Higginbotham for the final margin.

In the two games Higginbotham was 4-for-6 with three runs scored and five RBIs. Mitchell was 2-for-4 with three runs scored.

“(The) kids did a good job,” Bernstein said of her team. “I’m really pleased with our play.”

Minnesota returns to conference play this weekend when it closes out its home portion of the schedule against Iowa and Illinois.