The Gophers softball team had the perfect warmup for the postseason this weekend, playing its toughest opponent of the Big Ten schedule. And it responded in spades.
After a hard-fought 1-0 loss on Friday night, the Gophers outscored Northwestern 12-0 in their final two games of the regular season, winning 4-0 Sunday behind Amber Fiser’s near no-hitter before another sellout crowd at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium.
Fiser faced only two batters over the minimum, allowing a walk in the third inning and a leadoff infield single in the seventh, which third baseman Katelyn Kemetmueller nearly made a play on.
“Our defense, our offense, they all came out and played well,” Fiser said. “Obviously it was a fun atmosphere.”
The Wildcats, which entered the series with a chance to go unbeaten in the Big Ten, managed only four hits all weekend are were denied their first regular-season title since 2008. Instead, Michigan won it for the 11th time in 12 years with a sweep of Maryland.
The Gophers (39-11, 20-2) now head to Bloomington, Ind., where they will attempt to win the Big Ten tournament for the fourth year in a row and the fifth time in six years. They will be seeded third behind Michigan (40-11, 22-1) and Northwestern (42-9, 21-2), and their quest will begin at 6 p.m. Friday in the quarterfinals against No 6 Rutgers or No. 11 Purdue.
The Gophers won 20 or more games in conference play for the fourth time, even with an April cancellation against Michigan State because of weather. The Big Ten had three 20-win teams for the first time in its history.
Fiser was brilliant all weekend. In three games — one in relief — she gave up one run and three hits in 16 ⅔ innings while walking four and striking out 25.
She led Big Ten this season in ERA (1.25) and strikeouts (281), was second in innings pitched (202 ⅓) and tied for second in victories (25).
Maddie Houlihan had a pair of RBI doubles on Senior Day, and Hope Brandner hit a solo homer.
• Sunday’s announced attendance of 1,323 was the second-highest ever at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium. The series drew a Gophers-record 3,679 fans.
• Natalie DenHartog won the Big Ten RBI title as a freshman with 58. She was second in slugging percentage (.840), tied for third in home runs (15) and sixth in hitting (.396). Brandner was second in home runs (16) and third in RBI (53), and leadoff hitter MaKenna Partain was first in runs (62) and fourth in hitting (.417).