AUBURN, ALA. - It was a great ending to an unbeaten weekend for the Minnesota softball team.
Walker's blast over the right field fence was her second of the weekend and her team-leading fourth this season, and it allowed Minnesota (10-7) to rally for the win after it had fallen behind, 4-3, in the sixth inning.
Moulton (10-4) was phenomenal to start the game, as she struck out the first 11 Bulldog batters, while the Gophers built a 3-0 lead.
The Gophers jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the second inning. Junior center fielder Bree Blanchette opened the frame by launching a solo home run to left field, her third HR of the season. Freshman Paige Palkovich later drew a walk, then stole second base and advanced to third when the throw to second went into center field. Sophomore second baseman Erika Smyth then drove a ball over the head of the center fielder for an RBI double.
The lead grew to 3-0 in the third, as Walker was hit by a pitch to open the inning and stole second base before scoring on a one-out single to center by sophomore third baseman Kaitlyn Richardson.
Moulton had a perfect game going until two outs in the fifth, when Gardner-Webb's Jordyn Arrowood reached on an infield single.
But the Bulldogs rallied with two outs in the top of the sixth, scoring four unearned runs to take the lead. Freshman left-hander Nikki Anderson allowed a one-out single between a pair of strikeouts, before Kellie Beres reached on a fielding error at first by Palkovich. Morgan Baker followed by pulling a three-run home run just inside the foul pole to tie the score.
Moulton re-entered the game to pitch, and GWU managed to score the go-ahead run by getting a single through the left side, followed by a double to center by Mariana Gallardo for the 4-3 lead. Since the run scored against Moulton, who had re-entered the game in relief of Anderson, it goes as an earned run for Moulton and a team unearned run according to NCAA rules.
But Minnesota immediately responded by tying the score in the bottom of the sixth, as Richardson singled to center, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt by senior catcher Kari Dorle, and scored on a single down the left field line by Bree Blanchette.
Moulton struck out two of three batters in the top of the seventh to set the stage for Walker's dramatics in the bottom of the frame. Smyth drew a leadoff walk to give the Gophers a base runner, and Walker stepped to the plate after a failed sacrifice bunt attempt, but ended the game with her drive over the 12-foot wall in right.
Richardson went 3-for-3 at the plate, while Blanchette was 2-for-3 with two runs batted in, and Walker was 1-for-3 with two runs scored and a pair of RBI.
Moulton went 6.1 innings, allowing three hits and the earned run, while striking out a career-high 15 and walking none. Moulton has recorded wins in her past nine decisions.
The win was Minnesota's ninth in its past 11 games. The Golden Gophers return to action next weekend at Stanford's Louisville Slugger Classic. Minnesota opens the tournament against Pacific on Friday, March 8, at 12:00 p.m. CT.
First Pitch with Maddie Houlihan
Our final freshman to introduce you to before season is Maddie Houlihan out of Plymouth, Minn.
Groenewegen Named to Watch List
Sara Groenewegen has been selected to the “Watch List” for the 2016 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year award for her second straight season.
First Pitch with Taylor Chell
With season less than two weeks away get to know one of the newest Gophers in freshman outfielder Taylor Chell.