Minnesota’s softball team got the fall season started right Thursday, shutting out Wisconsin-Superior in back-to-back games by scores of 9-0 and 7-0.
“We had great pitching – what else can you say about two shutouts?” co-head coach Julie Standering said. “To play that many innings and keep that level of play up, I was very impressed.”
Sophomore Mandy Valadez dominated the Yellowjackets in the early game, striking out six and surrendering five hits in five innings of work.
The game was just 2-0 through two innings before the Gophers blew it wide open. They scored four runs in the third to go up 6-0 and another three in the fourth to make the game 9-0. After Superior started the fifth with back-to-back hits, the game ended on the mercy rule after Valadez settled down and got out of the jam without allowing a run.
In the nightcap, Rene Konderik allowed just one baserunner in three innings as the Gophers jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning and never looked back en route to a 7-0 victory.
“We just all came together really well,” said sophomore Megan Higginbotham, an All-Mideast Region catcher last year. “I was really impressed with the way that all of our young players came in and performed.”
Although Higginbotham and Standering said they were pleased with the performance of the new freshmen, Standering said she was especially impressed with junior Rachel Keeney’s play.
“She was impressive offensively and defensively,” Standering said. “She ran good bases and did all the little things right.”
Keeney had one hit and a sacrifice fly with two RBIs in the first game and was 2-for-2 in the nightcap, driving in another run for the Gophers.
“Hitting was definitely a big key in our win tonight,” Keeney said. “The pitching was awesome but our bats were really solid too.”
The Gophers had 10 and nine hits in the respective victories. Keeney said Minnesota will need more of the same tonight when the Gophers take on Concordia-Saint Paul, a 42-20 team last year, in another doubleheader.
“We need to have a lot of the same hitting,” Keeney said. “We’re facing a very different pitcher tonight, and how we adjust is going to be very crucial.”
Keeney was speaking about Concordia pitcher Kristin Schmidt, a junior who played with Wisconsin and Minnesota All-Stars against the USA Softball Women’s National team and pitched four complete innings, allowing just five hits and three unearned runs.
The Gophers split two meetings last year with the Golden Bears. They lost a 1-0 pitcher’s duel when Schmidt allowed only four hits and one walk, but won an 8-5 decision behind 13 hits while Schmidt was on the bench.
The Golden Bears ended last year ranked 13th in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association poll and did not lose any seniors to graduation. Standering said she knows the Gophers are in for a battle.
“Schmidt is an outstanding pitcher, and she’ll be a real test for us,” Standering said. “We just want to carry our momentum from Thursday over into tonight.”