BLOOMINGTON, IND. – After three one-sided victories over Purdue in the regular season, the Gophers softball team had a much tougher time with the Boilermakers before holding on to win 4-3 Friday in the Big Ten quarterfinals.
Minnesota (40-11), the third seed, will play Northwestern at 10:30 a.m. Saturday in the tournament's second semifinal. (Because of the threat of severe weather, all three game times on the final day were moved ahead.)
The Gophers, who are trying to win their fourth consecutive conference tournament, had only five hits against Purdue (31-27), the 11th seed, but all three were homers.
"We know we have a powerful offense and we just have to look for our pitch and know what to hunt," said freshman left fielder Natalie DenHartog, who hit her 16th homer, tying her for the team lead with Hope Brandner. The program single-season record is 20.
Minnesota, which outscored the Boilermakers 18-4 in a late March sweep in Minneapolis, took a 3-0 lead in the second inning when DenHartog hit a solo homer and Katelyn Kemmetmueller a two-run shot, her sixth homer.
Purdue rallied for two runs in the fifth off Sydney Smith. Two players singled and, with two outs, both scored on an infield single.
In the sixth inning, Amber Fiser relieved Smith, who gave up two earned runs and six hits while striking out four. Smith got the win improving her record to 13-4.
Allie Arneson's homer in the bottom of the sixth staked Fiser to a two-run lead she would need.
Purdue loaded the bases and scored once in the seventh on a hit batter before Fiser, who issued a walk and hit two batters in the inning, got a swinging strikeout for the last out.
"This is a team that always battles back and I think it shows," DenHartog said. "Purdue came out and they showed up, but so did we."
DenHartog, one of 10 finalists for national Freshman of the Year, was asked in a postgame interview on the Big Ten Network about her home run.
She said she knew the Purdue pitcher, Maddie Damon, had a good changeup and she fouled one of them off on the first pitch.
She hit the next pitch over the wall in right center. "I was guessing she would give me something hard," DenHartog said. "My swing felt good today — just felt confident going in. I was hunting that hard pitch and when she gace it to me I just swung the bat."
Hard. And the ball was gone.
• The Gophers have won 10 straight games in the conference tournament. In the semifinals they will face a Wildcats team they beat two out of three games last weekend at home. Northwestern won the opener 1-0, but Minnesota won the next two games decisively, 8-0 and 4-0. … Whatever happens Saturday, the Gophers are assured of being in the NCAA tournament either as an automatic qualifer if they win another tournament title or as an at-large team. The field will be announced at 8 p.m. Sunday on ESPN2.
Wisconsin 10, Ohio State 1 (6): Kaitlyn Menz pitched a three-hitter and Jordan Little hit a two-run homer and Taylor Johnson a solo shot as the fifth-seeded Badgers (40-11) routed the fourth-seeded Buckeyes (34-16).
Michigan 1, Illinois 0 (8): Freshman outfielder Lexie Blair's homer in the eighth inning enabled the top-seeded Wolverines (41-11) to edge the Illini (32-23), seeded No. 9.
Northwestern 2, Indiana 0: Freshman Danielle Williams pitched a one-hitter with 10 strikeouts as the Wildcats (43-9), seeded No. 2, beat the seventh-seeded and tournament host Hoosiers (36-21).