What a pitching performance that was.
Sara Groenewegen usually starts for the Gophers. But on Saturday, they needed her to come into a 1-1 game in relief.
And did she ever provide relief. The freshmen from White Rock, British Columbia, pitched 6-1/3 inning and didn't give up a hit against North Dakota State in the winners' bracket final of the Minneapolis regional at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium.
The Gophers finally pushed across three runs in the top of the 10th inning to take a 4-1 lead and Groenewegen moved down the Bison 1-2-3 in the bottom of the inning, striking out the first two batters.
That brought her game total to 13 strikeouts, a season high, including eight in a row to start her outing. She faced 20 batters; only one got on base via a walk.
Groenewegen got the win to improve her record to 14-2. She has a 2.12 ERA and has struck out 185 in 112 innings.
Next up for the Gophers, at 1:30 p.m. Sunday is Auburn in the championship game. The Tigers are coming out of the losers' bracket and have to beat Minnesota twice to advance to the super regionals.
Auburn is 41-18-1 after beating Wisconsin-Green Bay 9-1 in five innings and North Dakota 1-0 in elimination games on Saturday.
Sophomore Lexi Davis has started all three games for Auburn in the regional. She's Auburn's ace and got a little bit of a break when the Tigers jumped out to a big lead over Green Bay. She pitched only two innings in that game.
Davis is a 6-2 righthander who is 20-11 with a 2.74 ERA. She beat NDSU on a four-hitter.
The Tigers' second pitcher is sophomore Marcy Harper, 17-5, 3.74 ERA and much smaller. She's a 5-6 righthander.
Expecting Davis to start against the Gophers in Game 1. If there is a Game 2, then who knows?
Auburn also has two big sticks. Freshman Kasey Cooper had 18 homers and 77 RBI. And she's hitting .421. Junior Branndi Melero has 15 homers and 77 RBI, too. She is hitting .400.
"I thought Lexi pitched extremely well," Auburn coach Clint Myers said. "She made the pitches when she had to. She was tough all night long."
"I tried to think about it, pressure is created, it doesn't really exist," Davis said. "I just went out there, with the possibility of it being seniors last games, I wanted to do it for my team.
"Nobody wants to go home," Davis said. "That mind-set, and playing with our hearts, brought us closer. We're playing for each other."
FOUR BIG TEN TEAMS ALIVE
Washington beat Northwestern 9-0 on Saturday in five innings to end the Wildcats' season.
But the other four Big Ten teams in the NCAA tournament are still playing.
The Gophers, however, are the only unbeaten team in their regional.
Co-champions Michigan and Nebraska, and Wisconin all have to beat a seeded team twice on Sunday to advance to the super regionals.
Michigan plays Arizona State at 12:30 p.m. Sunday. The Wolverines lost to ASU 4-1 and beat San Diego State 9-1.
Nebraska plays Missouri, the No. 15 seed out of 16, at noon. The Cornhuskers won twice Saturday, beating Bradley 9-0 and Kansas 2-1.
Wisconsin plays Oregon, the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, at 1 p.m. The Badgers lost to Oregon 6-1 but beat Albany 8-1.
After Sunday's game, only 16 teams will still be left in the NCAA field.