ANN ARBOR, MICH. – Thanks to big performances from Sydney Dwyer and Sara Groenewegen, the Gophers are Big Ten softball tournament champions again.
The Gophers beat Ohio State 6-0 to win the championship Saturday, their third conference tournament title in four seasons. That came after Dwyer hit a walk-off home run to carry the Gophers to a 6-5 victory over Illinois in the semifinals earlier in the day.
The No. 2 Gophers (54-3) have won 25 games in a row going into the NCAA tournament. The 64-team field will be announced Sunday night, and the Gophers are certain to play host to a four-team regional next weekend.
“They’re just competitive,” Gophers coach Jessica Allister told the Big Ten Network following the championship game. “I keep saying that, but that’s all I can say. They believe in themselves.”
Dwyer homered twice against the Illini, and she also broke a scoreless tie in the championship game with a two-run homer in the fifth inning against the Buckeyes. Groenewegen, who was perfect through that point, finished Ohio State off from there, with the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year settling for a two-hitter.
The star pitcher won all three tournament games for the Gophers after winning the semifinal with two perfect innings of relief. She also set the program record for career strikeouts, getting 13 in two games for 1,187 in four college seasons. That broke the mark of 1,184 held by Sara Houlton.
“It’s awesome,” Groenewegen said of earning the record. “We have a history of tremendous pitchers. ... It’s an honor to be that leader.”
The championship game was a frustrating one for the Gophers before Dwyer’s breakthrough. Despite Groenewegen’s dominance, the game was scoreless as the Gophers stranded 11 runners in the first four innings.
In the top of the fifth, Kendyl Lindaman drew a leadoff walk, but the next two batters hit into fielder’s choices. Dwyer, who lined out to first with the bases loaded and two out in her previous at-bat, launched Shelby McCombs’ first pitch deep over the left field fence for her 13th homer of the season.
The Gophers made it 3-0 later in the inning on Sam Macken’s bases-loaded walk. They added three more in the seventh, two coming on Macken’s two-run double.
Against Illinois, the Gophers trailed 2-0 before scoring five runs in the fourth inning as Lindaman hit a grand slam, her 20th home run of the season. Illinois tied the score 5-5 in the fifth on a three-run homer by Stephanie Abello, setting up Dwyer’s seventh-inning heroics. Groenewegen earned the victory with two innings of perfect relief of starter Amber Fiser.