With a Jane Sage Cowles Stadium record crowd of 1,028 fans watching, the Gophers fell just short of pulling off a historically improbable sweep of No. 20 Michigan on Sunday.
Coming into the weekend series, Minnesota (28-16, 7-8 Big Ten) hadn’t beaten Michigan (32-13, 12-3 Big Ten) since April 27, 2007. The Gophers hadn’t beaten the Wolverines twice in a season since 1999.
Minnesota hadn’t swept them since 1983.
But the Gophers swept Saturday’s doubleheader to set up a possible series sweep before falling 5-3 in 10 innings Sunday.
The series win against Michigan, the conference’s top team, was Minnesota’s third Big Ten conference win in five series.
Michigan’s starting pitcher Haylie Wagner beat the Gophers with her arm and her bat Sunday, as she provided the run support she needed to close out the win. She hit a home run to centerfield in the top of the 10th inning to put her team ahead 4-3.
The Wolverines added an insurance run and fended off a Minnesota rally to pick up the win.
The Gophers nearly ended the game in the ninth inning. With two runners on base, centerfielder Bree Blanchette hit a ball just inches foul that would have plated at least one run and ended the game.
“It’s one of those games where it’s a game of inches. A couple inches here and there, and the game ends a lot earlier, but that’s the way the game works,” head coach Jessica Allister said.
Blanchette came up big for the Gophers in the top of the eighth inning when she, from centerfield, gunned down what would have been the go-ahead run at the plate.
The Gophers scored three runs in the first game thanks to a Kari Dorle home run but were unable to score the rest of the way off of Wagner.
“We kind of had her on the ropes early in the game, and we let her get in a groove a little bit. She’s a very good pitcher,” Allister said.
Minnesota’s starting lineup featured five left-handed hitters, who combined to go 2-for-16 off of Wagner in the third game.
“She’s a very, very good left-handed pitcher. It’s not something you see all the time with that curveball breaking away [from left-handed hitters],” Allister said.
Gophers ace Sara Moulton surrendered the three-run lead in the third inning.
Alissa Koch replaced her and gave up two runs — both in the 10th inning — in 5.2 innings pitched.
Allister opted to start Moulton all three games in a Big Ten series for the first time this year.
Moulton has now started the last six games for the Gophers.
Like the third game, the first game of the series also boasted a Moulton-Wagner matchup.
The teams have the top-two team ERAs in the Big Ten (Michigan first, Minnesota second), largely thanks in part to Moulton and Wagner, who are first and second in the conference in ERA, respectively.
Their first matchup between the two was a pitchers’ duel that resulted in a 1-0 Minnesota win.
The difference in the game was a solo home run by Erica Meyer, her sixth on the season.
“[Meyer] came up huge there with a great swing on a great pitch,” Allister said.
Moulton pitched a complete-game two-hitter and struck out 10.
There was a two and a half hour rain delay between games Saturday.
“Rain delays aren’t easy; it’s easy to lose mental focus during that time, [but] they stayed in it. They came back out ready to go,” Allister said Saturday. “They were pretty excited after that first game; they wanted to take two.”
Behind Moulton again, the Gophers won 6-4.
Wagner made a brief appearance on the mound but left during the middle of an at-bat due to an apparent injury.
Dorle hit a three-run home run in the third inning, and Moulton never relinquished that lead.
Despite Sunday’s loss, Dorle called the series a success and said beating a ranked team was a “great feeling.”
“If you look at our conference schedule, the perennial powers are the teams that we are doing the best against,” Allister said Saturday. “I think this team believes that they can play with anybody. If we come out ready to go, we can.”
The Gophers will return to action with a series against Penn State in State College, Pa., next weekend.
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