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Gophers softball lights up ‘homer opener’ weekend

Minnesota is on a six-game win streak, scoring 70 runs over that span.
Image by Bjorn Franke (courtesy)
Freshman Brooklyn Jones after her grand slam against Ohio State on April 6, 2024. Brooklyn hit a walk-off run-rule grand slam on April 6 in her second at-bat of the inning.

With no outs and trailing Ohio State by a single run in the sixth inning, Gophers softball head coach Piper Ritter elected to send up a pinch hitter.

Freshman Brooklyn Jones stepped up to the plate with two career at-bats behind her. The Gophers had trailed by as many as four but were back within striking distance with the game-tying run on second.

Ohio State countered Ritter’s move by bringing in right-handed pitcher Allison Smith. Jones struck out swinging for the first out of the inning.

Five runs and two outs later, the freshman Jones stepped in for the second time in the sixth inning. This time, the bases were loaded. 

Jones hit the second pitch on the inside corner and sent it over the left-field wall for a walk-off grand slam, capping off a 10-run inning to win Game 2 of the series on Saturday.

“The more consistent you are in practice, the more it translates in the at-bats,” Ritter said about Jones. “She deserved it.”

The first home run of Jones’ career also marked Minnesota’s 40th of the season. The Gophers have since tacked on two more, pushing their season total to 42 and extending their active home run streak to nine consecutive games.

The Gophers placed third in the Big Ten with an overall record of 21-15 and are on a six-game win streak, during which they have scored 70 runs.

The Gophers’ performance at the plate this year has been nothing short of spectacular. As of April 9, their offense is first or tied for first in the Big Ten in runs (247), RBIs (225), total bases (518), slugging percentage (.513) and walks (142).

The group is second in the conference in hits (316), home runs (42), on-base percentage (.402) and sacrifice flies (13).

Gopher Morgan DeBord followed up Jones’ Game 2 performance with a clutch moment of her own.

Down three runs in the bottom of the seventh inning of Game 3 with two runners on base, DeBord laid into a fastball on the outer edge, sending it to left-center and over the wall to tie the game.

DeBord said she had confidence heading into the at-bat.

“I’d been seeing the ball well all day,” DeBord said. “Once I hit it, I knew off the bat, yeah, that’s a good hit. Seeing it go over was a rush of energy. Rounding the bases and coming back to my team at home was probably the most hype I’ve ever been.”

It was a series to remember for DeBord, who went 6 for 9 with two doubles, six RBIs, and one home run in three games. The graduate transfer from Loyola Marymount said her first home series at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium was “a dream come true.”

The Gophers swept Illinois in an away series on March 29 and 30 thanks to 11 home runs from six different batters throughout the series, including a program record three home runs in a single game for Jess Oakland in Game 2.

Since March 17, the San Jose, California, native has tallied a hit in 10 consecutive games, averaging 2.2 per game.

Oakland said home runs and hits of all types spark confidence in the lineup when facing an opposing pitcher.

“I think [home runs] are totally contagious,” Oakland said. “When one person gets a hit, even if it’s a little dinker, it frees up people to be like, ‘We can hit this pitcher,’” Oakland said. 

Oakland said she came into college unsure what to expect from her offense. Now, Oakland sits second in the Big Ten with 14 home runs and second in the conference with a .479 batting average (min. 50 at-bats).

Catcher Taylor Krapf has four home runs in her last six games and went 4 for 4 at the plate in the final game of the Ohio State series, tallying three doubles and a single.

After not hitting a home run in the first 24 games of the season, Krapf has hit seven home runs in the last 12 games, including one in each of the three games against Illinois.

“Trusting myself and trusting that my teammates had my back if it wasn’t going my way,” Krapf said when asked about what helped her confidence on offense. “Finding my confidence and trusting the process to get there.”

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  • Henry Shaffer
    Apr 11, 2024 at 9:34 pm

    Very Cool, Brooklyn is some kind of Ball player!