March 24, 2012
The University of Minnesota softball team struggled in its first two games of the Big Ten season as they dropped both games to Illinois (15-10). The Gophers (18-9) were shutout in a 2-0 loss, and then they followed with a heartbreaking 4-3 loss in the bottom of the seventh.
Game One: Illinois 2, Minnesota 0
The Golden Gophers allowed Illinois to take an early 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first, and Minnesota was unable to get their offense going, as they would fall by the same score.
The Fighting Illini began the bottom of the first by getting their leadoff batter, Nikki Simpson, on by way of a dropped third strike. Simpson would advance to second on a wild pitch. In the following at bat, Danielle Vaji singled up the middle to push Simpson to third. Simpson would eventually score on the play after a Bree Blanchette throwing error to home while Vaji advanced to third.
Illinois would tally its second run on a Hackett single up the middle.
Sophomore Sara Moulton went into shutdown mode after the first inning as she only allowed two hits the rest of the game. The Eagan, Minn. native finished the game with 11 strikeouts while allowing only five hits in the loss.
Minnesota would be held hitless by Illini pitcher Pepper Gay until the top of the sixth when Kaitlyn Richardson doubled to the right-center wall. Junior Alex Davis would step up to the plate with Richardson in scoring position, but the first baseman lined out to second. Richardson would be doubled up on the play to end the inning.
The Gophers attempted another late rally in the top of the seventh when Kari Dorle received a leadoff walk. Meyer would step up one at bat later and record a one-out single up the middle. The Gophers’ hopes of pulling off a comeback ended when Hannah Granger chopped a ball to second base, which led to Meyer getting forced out at second to end the game.
Game Two: Illinois 4, Minnesota 3
Minnesota turned the tables in the second game of the doubleheader by taking the early 2-0 lead, but the Illini stormed back late in the game to notch four runs and pull out the 4-3 comeback victory.
Freshmen surged the Gophers to a 2-0 lead when Tyler Walker singled up the middle and then Richardson followed with her seventh home run of the season.
Alissa Koch would get the start for Minnesota and shutdown the Illini offense for the first two innings. It was with one out in the third that she was pulled after walking two batters and hitting another. Moulton would relieve her and throw one pitch to Kelley Wedel, who popped out to Walker.
Koch left the game without surrendering a hit, striking out three batters and walking four.
Illinois would even up the score in the fifth when Meredith Hackett notched her fifth home run on the season, which also scored Vaji.
It was in the sixth that Illinois grabbed their first lead of the game. Wedel would reach base on a dropped third strike and then advance to second on an illegal pitch by Moulton. After advancing to third on a groundout, Wedel would reach home on an Erika Smyth error.
With being down heading into the seventh, Minnesota didn’t fret as they bounced back to even up the game.
The Gophers loaded the bases thanks to an Illini error on Blanchette’s at bat, a Walker walk and a Richardson single. With the bases loaded, Davis produces a single to score Blanchette.
Walker would try to score on a wild pitch in the following at bat, but the freshman would get tagged out on a controversial call at the plate. Minnesota would strand two Richardson and Davis on second and third to end the inning.
With two outs and a runner on first in the bottom of the seventh, Wedel proved to be the Gophers’ kryptonite as she doubled to left field, which scored her Illini teammate all the way from first for the game-winning run.
Minnesota will have a chance at revenge on Illinois tomorrow as they cap off their Big Ten opening series tomorrow at 1 p.m.