March 28, 2014
ST. PAUL - The 15th-ranked Minnesota softball team used five home runs to rack up its 25th win of the season, an 8-3 victory over Big Ten foe Illinois, in the teams' series opener at the University of St. Thomas' South Field in St. Paul, Minn. Friday afternoon. The Gophers are now off to a program-best 25-4 start that includes a 3-1 ledger in conference play.
The game was Minnesota's first in its home state this season.
The Gophers wasted little time getting on the board in the first inning. Tyler Walker led off the game with a double and moved to third on a sac bunt by Erica Meyer. Kaitlyn Richardson made it 1-0 with an RBI single. Nos. 4 and 5 hitters Sara Groenewegen then opened the game up with back-to-back home runs to up the team's cushion to four runs and chase Fighting Illini starter Brandi Needham.
After reliever Jade Vecvanags retired the first batter she faced, Hannah Granger blasted her first home run of the season over the center-field fence to make it 5-0 after one.
Vecvanags settled down and didn't allow a hit under Paige Palkovich knocked a single up the middle in the fourth, but Richardson put the game out of reach in the following inning with a two-run long ball that extended the Gophers' lead to seven.
Illinois got on the board with a two-run home run of its own in the sixth, but Taylor LeMay hit her team-leading seventh home run of the season in the bottom of the frame to cap Minnesota's scoring. The Illini got a run back in the seventh, but Nikki Anderson came in to record the day's final out and seal the win.
Starting pitcher Sara Moulton allowed three runs (two earned) over 6.2 innings to improve to 17-3 on the season. She recorded 10 strikeouts to move to 1,106 on her career, 16 shy of pitching coach Piper Ritter's school record of 1,122. Moulton now has 102 career wins, a Minnesota best.
The teams will wrap up their weekend series Saturday with a doubleheader slated to begin at 11 a.m. in St. Paul. The Gophers are scheduled to host Wisconsin next week in a Friday-Saturday-Sunday series.
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