A couple weeks ago -- April 29 to be exact -- North Dakota State was supposed to make a visit to Jane Sage Cowles Stadium to play the Gophers in a softball doubleheader. A combination of cold and rain scrubbed the games.
But on Saturday, the two will meet there in the postseason.
Both won on the first day of the Minneapolis regional in the 64-team NCAA tournament. The Gophers, seeded 16th in the field, won as expected. Although maybe quite this easy. They beat Wisconsin-Green Bay 10-1, scoring seven runs in the fifth inning to end the game by the eight-run rule.
The Bison pulled the shocker, upsetting Arkansas, from the mighty SEC, 5-2.
So it will be NDSU vs. the U at 1:30 p.m. Saturday with the winner advancing to the regional title game Sunday.
The Gophers won with splendid pitching and long-ball hitting.
Senior Sara Moulton gave up a single to the Phoenix's leadoff hitter, Hailey Mohrfeld, and that was it for hits.She scored, following an error and a groundout, but Moulton mowed down 12 in a row until the fifth.
She struck out eight.
"Moulton was great in the circle and kept us steady,” Gophers coach Jessica Allister said.
“I think we were all feeling some nerves and we were excited to get out there and play in front of a huge crowd," Moulton said, referring to the 1,100 in the stands. "I don’t think we’ve played at home in front of a crowd that big before. So we were a little nervous but after they scored the first run we really settled down.”
Moulton pitched her 17th complete game and, except for an unearned run, would have had her 13th shutout.
And the Gophers (42-9) started pecking away on the Phoenix.
Minnesota took a 2-1 lead in the third inning on Sam Macken's RBI single off the leg of Green Bay's pitcher and Kaitlyn Richardson's sacrifice fly.
Erica Meyer's double made it 3-1 in the fourth.
And then came the big fifth. Meyer walked with the bases-loaded to force in a run, 4-1. Sydney Fabian, the No. 9 hitter, tripled off the right-field wall, 7-1. Tyler Walker tripled to left center, 8-1. She leads the nation with eight triples.
And, finally, Macken stepped up and hit a two-run homer, 10-1.
“Sam has just had a tremendous month and she takes confident swings at pitches in the zone and she did a great job tonight," Allister said.
It was Macken who singled in the winning run when the Gophers beat Michigan 3-2 in the Big Ten tournament championship game.
“It gives me all the confidence in the world and it takes the pressure off," Moulton said when asked about the Gophers' 10-run output. "It is fun when we are scoring runs and our defense played phenomenally behind me today. I just rolled them some ground balls and they made all the plays.”
The Phoenix didn't. "They outplayed us today," Green Bay coach Jean Rivett said. "They brought all their weapons, their bats. I don’t know if we were nervous or what it was, but we are not going to make excuses. They kicked our butt."
BIG TEN ROLLS ON
The five Big Ten teams in the NCAA tournament went 5-1 (Northwestern played twice) on Friday and all are still alive in their regionals.
Northwestern beat Iona 14-4 in six innings and BYU 8-3 in elimination games. The Wildcats will play Washington in a regional title game on Saturday.
Wisconsin won 1-0 over Albany, Michigan edged San Diego State 8-7 in nine innings. Minnesota won, but we covered that.
The only Big Ten team to lose was conference co-champion Nebraska, falling to Kansas 3-1. Now the Cornhuskers are in the losers' bracket.