The Gophers' softball team returned to the field for the first time in 2020 over the weekend, winning three games at the NFCA Division 1 Leadoff Classic.
Wins over Missouri State and NC State Friday
In two completely different games, the Gophers came away with two wins, showing their ability to win in multiple ways.
The first two innings against Missouri State indicated that a defensive battle was ahead. But in the top of the third, the Gophers offense started connecting. Freshman Olivia Peterson reached first with a single and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt from outfielder Ali Lindner. With Peterson in scoring position, infielder MaKenna Partain hit a single into center field to bring her home and take the 1-0 lead.
The offense production proved to be enough for the Gophers pitchers as transfer pitcher Autumn Pease pitched five scoreless innings in her debut with the team, striking out five and allowing only two hits. Amber Fiser stepped in for the final two innings, holding off Missouri State despite them threatening late to secure the 1-0 win.
The second game as a different story with no shortage of offense, starting right away in the first inning. Sophomore first baseman Emily Hansen hit a sacrifice fly deep into left bringing Partain home as Minnesota quickly took a 1-0 lead. Later in the first, Lindner doubled home two more. But NC State quickly answered back, adding two runs of its own in the first, making it a 3-2 Minnesota lead.
In the second inning, the offensive production continued for Minnesota. Designated player Natalie DenHartog connected deep to left-center field for a two-run home run, bringing senior Carlie Brandt home and extending the Minnesota lead, 5-2. NC State added another pair of runs in the second before Fiser got into a rhythm and shut down the Wolfpack offense the next three innings.
Meanwhile, the Gophers tacked on eight more runs, securing the 13-7 win. Fiser finished the game with 13 strikeouts, tying her career-high for the sixth time.
Gophers split Saturday
Similarly to their game against Missouri State, the Gophers found themselves in a mostly defensive battle against Missouri, with flurries of runs coming early and late.
Missouri got on the board right away in the first with an RBI single that was quickly followed by a two-run home run. After a scoreless first, Partain brought the Gophers offense to life in the second with an RBI triple to deep right field, cutting Missouri's lead to one. From there, the pitchers settled in. Pease pitched two shutout innings before Fiser took over in the fourth and neither team added another run until the seventh.
With runs hard to come by, it looked like Missouri added the insurance run it needed in the top of the seventh with a solo home run that extended their lead, 4-2.
Minnesota had other ideas.
In the bottom of the inning, Partain hit a lead off double, Brandt hit a single and DenHartog was hit by a pitch, loading the bases for the Gophers with no outs. Missouri secured its first out before Hansen stepped to the plate and hit a ground ball between first and second, bringing the game tying run in for the Gophers. But with runners on second and third, the Gophers were unable to bring in the game winning run, extending the game to an eighth inning.
Despite the Gophers incredible rally in the seventh, Missouri still held on for the win. They tacked on three runs in the eighth and fended off the Minnesota attack to secure the 7-4 victory.
After the loss, the Gophers bounced back with a 10-0 win over South Alabama behind a dominant performance from Fiser.
Scoreless through three, the Gophers picked up runs in the fourth and fifth to take a 2-0 lead that held until the seventh where they added eight runs. Senior Kaylen Krueger, sophomore Josey White, DenHartog and Hansen all brought in RBIs for Minnesota with Hansen bringing in three in the inning. Hansen also stood out on the defensive side of things at first base.
"She's very calm, very cool. One of the best things about her is she's always laughing and having a good time," Partain said of Hansen. "It's nice to have her over there."
Fiser again tied her career high in strikeouts with 13 as Pease came in to close out the seventh.
Gophers drop final game to Kentucky on Sunday
After a strong game against Southern Alabama, Minnesota failed to get the bats going again in Sunday's game with Kentucky, losing 7-0.
Minnesota gave up three runs in the third inning, with two coming off a triple from Kentucky's Kayla Kowalik. The third run was scored by Kowalik herself, as she made it home off a ground out from Lauren Johnson.
The Gophers were unable to score any runs of their own, even with Hansen hitting a triple in the bottom of the fourth. Pease pitched the final four innings, allowing three runs, five hits and posting six strikeouts.
"She had some big pitches in the big moments, and showed a lot of promise for this year. She did a really good job in her first time out," Trachsel said of Pease.
Even with the Wildcats scoring two more runs and getting shut out at the plate, the day wasn't all negative. Partain was named to the All-Tournament Team, putting up a .389 batting average and an on-base percentage of .500 on the weekend.
Minnesota will head back to Florida next weekend for the ESPN St. Pete/Clearwater Elite Invitational facing off against Oklahoma State, Florida State, Virginia Tech and Missouri.