In front of a crowd of 1,323 at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium on Sunday, the Gophers spoiled Northwestern's bid to win the Big Ten regular-season title.
No. 13 Minnesota (39-11, 20-2) defeated No. 19 Northwestern (42-9, 21-2) 4-0 behind a dominant performance from pitcher Amber Fiser. The Gophers won two of three against the Wildcats this weekend.
Right fielder Maddie Houlihan said the crowd made Minnesota's series victory possible.
"What a fun day we had," Houlihan said. "They made it electric, a type of atmosphere that any program would be lucky to have."
Minnesota shuts out Northwestern on Sunday
The Gophers took a 1-0 lead in the first inning when Houlihan drove in second baseman MaKenna Partain with a double off the center field wall. It was Houlihan's 10th double of the season. First baseman Hope Brandner extended Minnesota's lead to 3-0 in the third inning when she hit her 16th home run of the season.
Fiser threw a complete-game shutout and carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning. She lost the no-hit bid when Wildcats left fielder Morgan Nelson lined a single off the glove of Gophers third baseman Katelyn Kemmetmueller, who couldn't get Nelson out at first. Fiser struck out eight Wildcats and walked one.
"It was cool to watch [Kemmetmueller] dive for that ball," Fiser said. "I thought she had it. It's fine. It's still a great play. I'm proud of her effort."
Head coach Jamie Trachsel said Fiser had her best mental performance of the year on Sunday.
"She's tired," Trachsel said. "All of our pitchers are tired. This was a mental grind. She had great composure. She was efficient with her pitches. Her approach, her mentality and her toughness in this game was the reason that she did as well as she did."
Gophers rebound with a win on Saturday
After only recording one hit in Friday's 1-0 loss to Northwestern, Minnesota had seven hits against the Wildcats. The Gophers defeated the Wildcats 8-0 on Saturday afternoon in five innings. Partain and catcher Emma Burns each hit home runs to lead the Gophers offensively.
Trachsel said Minnesota responded well after Friday's loss.
"We kept putting pressure on their defense," Trachsel said. "When you put the ball in play and you pressure the defense, anything can happen. That was a testament to how many balls we put in play."
The Gophers opened the scoring in the first inning when designated player Natalie DenHartog singled to center field. It was DenHartog's 58th RBI of the season. Burns gave Minnesota some breathing room with a two-run shot that nearly hit the football practice facility beyond left field. It was her seventh home run of the season.
With one swing of the bat in the fourth inning, Partain doubled Minnesota's lead. She hit her fifth home run of the season, a three-run jack, as the Gophers lead swelled to 6-0.
Partain said she wasn't hitting for the fences.
"I was looking to hit the ball hard," Partain said. "It's exciting. You get to celebrate with your teammates at home. There's nothing better than that."
Fiser won her 24th game of the season, striking out seven in 2 2/3 innings after replacing starter Sydney Smith in the third inning.
What's next for the Gophers?
Minnesota finished third in the Big Ten and will get a first-round bye in the Big Ten Tournament. The Gophers will face Rutgers (28-23, 11-12) or Penn State (24-31, 7-16) in the Big Ten quarterfinal on Friday at Andy Mohr Field in Bloomington, Indiana.
Houlihan said Minnesota gained confidence this weekend and will use that heading into the Big Ten tournament. The Gophers are the three-time defending Big Ten tournament champions.
"We feel awesome," she said. "A weekend like this at the end of the year is what you want. You want to be facing the best pitching possible going into the postseason because from here on out, that's all we're going to see."