For the first time in 26 years, a conference softball title is coming back to Dinkytown.
The fourth-ranked Gophers (51-3, 21-1 Big Ten) swept Penn State (22-32, 8-15 Big Ten) this weekend, clinching the outright Big Ten regular season title after Saturday’s 14-1 victory.
“It was awesome to see our girls work so hard all year and be rewarded with a regular season championship,” said head coach Jessica Allister. “There was a lot of excitement, a lot of celebrating, and it was wonderful to see them so happy.”
The title is Minnesota’s first regular season crown since 1991, and follows last season’s conference tournament championship.
The Gophers were never really threatened by the Nittany Lions, racking up three run-rule victories in three games.
In the series opener, Minnesota jumped ahead to an early six-run lead thanks to contributions from numerous players in the lineup.
Sophomore right fielder Maddie Houlihan continued her hot streak of late, putting the Gophers in front early with an RBI double. Houlihan is now tied for the team lead in doubles with 16 on the year.
Sara Groenewegen continued her dominance in the pitching circle, pitching all six innings while giving up just one run.
The Gophers continued to pour on the runs on Saturday, boosted by a three-hit, four-RBI performance from Dani Wagner. Sam Macken and Danielle Parlich also had multi-hit games en route to a 14-run showing from Minnesota.
Macken’s solid weekend at the plate for the Gophers helped solidify the conference title, just another in a long list of accomplishments during the senior’s time at Minnesota.
She has been a part of three NCAA tournament teams, and played in the first NCAA Super Regional in program history. For her, this is just another chapter.
“When I signed to [Minnesota] I never thought I would be on a No. 4 team in the country,” Macken said. “We just want to keep going from there, and prove to the rest of the softball world that we can make it to the World Series.”
The series finale brought on — you guessed it — another strong performance from the Minnesota bats, although it didn’t look as promising early on.
Penn State grabbed a first inning lead on a leadoff home run by Rebecca Ziegler, putting Groenewegen in a hole early.
The Gophers would bounce back, however.
The Minnesota pitching staff didn’t allow another Penn State baserunner for the remainder of the game, and the Gophers offense took it from there.
Allie Arneson, Wagner, and MaKenna Partain each had multi-RBI games for Minnesota, which put up double-digit runs for the fourth time in its last four games.
The Gophers have now won 22 straight games — a program record — and look to carry that momentum into the postseason.
“[It gives us] lots of momentum,” Partain said. “Building on that momentum is something that we’re looking to do…the World Series is what we’re aiming for.”