The SEC is the top conference in college softball. Almost every team in it makes the NCAA tournament, so it was good for the Gophers to play in the Auburn Invitational last weekend. One of those softball hotbeds.
They had a good, not great performance there, going 4-1. They won three times in shortened games when they got eight runs ahead and split with the host Tigers, winning 5-4 and losing 5-1 when MaKenna Partain's homer was the only hit they had.
Here are five takeaways from the weekend:
1. Good to see Carlie Brandt in the circle again. She pitched the first three innings against Binghamton and got the win as the U won 11-2. It was her first start since Feb. 16, 2019. She was a pretty good closer as a freshman, going 6-0 with a 0.84 ERA. She had one start and 13 relied appearances. As a sophomore, she was 7-2 with a 1.35 ERA in seven starts and 16 appearances. Last year she pitched in only two games. Gophers really need to develop some depth in circle. Best teams have it. Freshman Ava Dueck also made two short appearances and gave up one unearned run and two hit in three innings. She struck out four, walked none.
2. Going, going, gone. Sophomore Natalie DenHartog hit two three-run shots and Katelyn Kemmetmueller hit one three-run blast. DenHartog (photo above by Anthony Souffle/Star Tribune) has five homers this season and 19 RBI, tied with Partain for the team lead. DenHartog showed that when teams don't pitch around her, she can do a lot of damage.
3. Schedule stays tough. This week the Gophers (12-7), who are on spring break, play in the UCLA/Long Beach State tournament. They face five teams, all with winning records, including the defending NCAA champion and No. 1-ranked team, UCLA. The opponents: Cal State Fullerton (12-5), Long Beach State (11-9), Cal Poly (10-8), UCLA (18-1) and Central Florida (16-2). ... Wisconsin lost to UCLA 3-1 in eight innings. ... Big Ten schedule starts after two more weekends.
4. Sophomore showing pop. With Hope Brandner sidelined by an undisclosed medical issue, Emily Hansen has become the regular first baseman. And almost half of her 15 hits have been for extra bases. She has three doubles, two triples and two homers. She is hitting .273 with 14 RBI. Hansen has not played first base before, so she is having a few fielding issues. She leads team with five errors. Should improve in that area the more she plays. Last year she was 2-for-12 at plate; started two games as designated player.
5. Biggest win so far. Last Friday the Gophers scored one run in the top of the seventh on Katelyn Kemmetmueller's RBI double -- her first extra base hit of the season -- against Auburn to take a 5-4 lead and held on for the win when Amber Fiser got two strikeouts and a groundout. "It was a great win. It was one of the first times we won in the seventh inning," coach Jamie Trachsel said. "We found a way to win. We got the run and held them in what was probably Fiser's strongest inning. It was a great team win."