The Gophers scored three runs in the top of the 10th inning to beat North Dakota State 4-1 on Saturday in the first of three games on the second day of the NCAA’s Minneapolis softball regional.
The victory puts Minnesota (43-9), the host team but the visitor on the scoreboard in this game, in Sunday’s 1:30 p.m. championship game at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium. A second game, if needed in the double-elimination tournament, will be played at 4 p.m.
With the score tied 1-1 after nine innings Saturday, the Gophers opened the 10th with back-to-back doubles by Sam Macken and Kaitlyn Richardson to take a one-run lead.
After a bunt and a walk loaded the bases, Erica Meyer’s two-out, two-run single gave the Gophers a 4-1 lead.
More than enough for freshman reliever Sara Groenewegen to hold. She pitched 6⅓ hitless innings and struck out a season-high 13, including the first eight batters she faced.
“She did great. At this point in time there is no such thing as freshman,” Gophers coach Jessica Allister said. “… The game knows know age. But she was tremendously composed and got some huge strikeouts for us.”
NDSU’s Krista Menke also pitched well, giving up only five hits until running into truoble in the 10th.
The Gophers took a 1-0 lead on Meyer’s sacrifice fly in the second.
North Dakota (36-17) tied the score in the bottom of the fourth on a walk, an error and Alex Sobrero’s two-out infield single.
At that point, Allister lifted starter Sara Moulton, who had pitched five innings the day before in a 10-1 rout of Wisconsin-Green Bay, in favor of Groenewegen, the Big Ten pitcher and freshman of the year.
And Groenewegen struck out the next batter and kept striking out batters every inning.
“I don’t think at any point of the game any of us thought that we were going to lose this game,” Groenewegen said. “I mean we left runners on, but we knew that something else was going to happen. It was just a matter of when.”
Richardson had the same thoughts: “When[Sara] is mowing them down out there it gives you confidence. If we didn’t get it this inning, Sara was going to shut them down and we will get it in the next inning.”
Allister appreciated everything about the tension-packed game. “Wow. That is what the postseason is all about,” she said. “That was an awesome game. Both teams played tremendously, all three pitchers left it all out on the line, defense made some great plays and came up with some good hits. It was a great postseason atmosphere, a lot of fun and a great crowd.”
The extra-inning game was the first of the season for Minnesota, which played 10 innings for the first time since April 22, 2012 when it dropped a 5-3 decision to Michigan.
• Moulton and Richardson made the National Fastpitch Coaches Association’s all-region first team. Groenewegen and shortstop Tyler Walker were named to the second team and Meyer to the third.
Auburn 9, Wisconsin-Green Bay 1 (5 innings): The Tigers of the powerful SEC bounced back from a 5-2 loss to North Dakota State on Friday to eliminate the Phoenix.