IU and Minnesota only played once Saturday afternoon, but it had the feeling of two completely different games.
Minnesota had a 3-0 lead heading into the third inning before a rain delay of about 93 minutes forced both teams into their dugouts. Then, the Hoosiers fought back in the top of the fifth to take a 4-3 lead.
The Golden Gophers looked like the back-to-back Big Ten Tournament champions from there on out, scoring six unanswered runs in the bottom of the fifth and sixth to cap off a 9-4 victory in the Big Ten Tournament semifinals in Madison, Wisconsin.
“Unfortunately, we weren’t able to make enough plays to finish but I was really proud of this group, being able to fight until the end,” IU Coach Shonda Stanton said.
It was all Minnesota early on.
In the bottom of the second, junior pitcher Tara Trainer walked three batters to load the bases for Minnesota. Then, the Golden Gophers singled up the middle to take a 2-0 lead. A wild pitch from sophomore pitcher Emily Goodin plated the third Minnesota run.
The Hoosiers had an opportunity to respond in the top of the third with two on and only one out, but back-to-back strikeouts kept them without a run. In the top of the fifth IU found itself in the same situation after sophomore catcher Bella Norton and freshman outfielder Taylor Lambert each picked up a single with no outs.
After the rain delay, the Hoosiers picked things up where they left off as sophomore outfielder Gabbi Jenkins singled to load the bases with one out.
“We couldn’t have been in a better position when we went back out onto the field,” Jenkins said.
Senior infielder Taylor Uden and freshman designated player Maddie Westmoreland were both walked to make it only a 3-2 Minnesota lead. Then, freshman infielder Katie Lacefield doubled down the left field line to give the Hoosiers their first lead of the afternoon.
“I was pleased with how we fought back, that’s what this group has done all season long,” Stanton said.
Despite watching its lead wash away in the top of the fifth, Minnesota responded quickly in the bottom of the inning. After Trainer re-entered the game, she walked the first batter she saw to put two on with one out. Then, Minnesota found the gap in left field with a hit to tie the game. Another throwing error by the Hoosiers plated the fifth run of the day for the Golden Gophers.
Minnesota wasn’t done as it managed to score four more runs in the bottom of the sixth to put the game out of reach as IU couldn’t find much in the final two innings. The impressive conference turnaround officially came to an end.
In her first season as head coach, Stanton guided the Hoosiers to their first Big Ten Tournament semifinals appearance since 2006 and made them into a top-three conference team. After the 4-19 start to the season, the way her team ended things has brought excitement for the future of the program.
“I think it’s pretty exciting stuff to know that Indiana softball is new Indiana, it’s not headed in any direction but forward,” Jenkins said. “I fully expect that we’ll be in the semifinal game and championship game for years to come. This isn’t just a one-time thing, that’s what exciting. This is just a taste of it.”