After a three-year absence from the Big Ten tournament, the Minnesota softball team will not only return this year, but return as a power.
Big Ten Tournament
when: Thursday - Sunday
The Gophers clinched the fourth seed Sunday, completing a two-game sweep at Wisconsin by scores of 4-0 and 14-4 to end the regular season with a conference record above .500.
"We set a goal in January to be fifth place or higher, and we've obtained that goal," coach Lisa Bernstein said. "Coming in fourth is phenomenal for this group of kids. They've worked their tails off and stayed committed, and we're real proud of them."
Junior pitcher Briana Hassett was lights out once again in the circle for the Gophers Saturday, shutting out Wisconsin on two hits.
But the Badgers were up to the challenge, keeping pace with Hassett for 10 innings of work.
Minnesota broke the game open in the 11th, however, collecting three consecutive hits and breaking the scoreless tie on junior catcher Shannon Stemper's RBI double.
The Gophers piled on two more runs during the next two hitters, and topped off a four-run inning on freshman shortstop Brianna Sudenga's RBI groundout.
"We fought really hard, so I think it was just a matter of time until that one ball dropped and we could score," junior third baseman Colleen Conway said. "Once we got that one run, we piled on three more. It was just a matter of getting that first run across."
Hassett completed the two-hitter, finishing the game with 16 strikeouts to record her 19th win of the season.
Minnesota picked up right where it left off Sunday, holding the Gophers' version of a slugfest in a 14-4 five-inning laugher.
The Gophers collected 15 hits from 10 different players to overpower Wisconsin by needing just three innings to record their 14 runs.
One thing Minnesota didn't need was extra-base hits, as 14 of the team's 15 hits were singles.
But freshman outfielder Aubrey Davis said days like this aren't uncommon for her small-balling team.
"We performed one through nine today. Everybody contributes, everybody hits," she said. "It's not surprising because everyone can hit on this team. Games like this can only build momentum."
Conway and freshman first baseman Malisa Barnes led the hit parade with three hits apiece, while senior outfielder Colleen Powers contributed two hits and three RBI from the bottom half of the lineup.
In the pitcher's circle, junior Katie Dalen split time with Hassett to hold the Badgers to just four runs. Wisconsin put up three on a first-inning homer to take a brief lead, but the Gophers pitching staff shut down the Badgers' offense for the remainder of the game.
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