Minnesota tops North Dakota State in 10 innings, advances to regional final
MINNEAPOLIS -- It took an extra effort, but Minnesota advanced to the championship game of the Minneapolis Regional by recording a 4-1 win against North Dakota State in 10 innings on Saturday.
Sara Groenewegen (14-2) came on in relief of Minnesota starter Sara Moulton in the bottom of the fourth inning and turned in a dominating performance in the circle. Groenewegen, the Big Ten's Freshman of the Year and Pitcher of the Year, struck out the first eight batters she saw and finished with 13 strikeouts in 6.1 hitless innings.
Minnesota opened the scoring in the top of the second by loading the bases with no outs against NDSU starter Krista Menke. Groenwegen, who started the game at first base, opened the inning with a single down the left field line and gave the Gophers a 1-0 lead by coming home on a sacrifice fly to left by Erica Meyer.
The Bison dodged a bullet in the top of the fourth, as Minnesota opened the inning with back-to-back singles, but Menke got a pop out back to the circle before second baseman Cheyenne Garcia made a terrific catch of a line drive toward right and threw to second for a double play.
NDSU pushed across a run in the bottom of the fourth to tie the score at one. Jackie Stifter led off by drawing a walk from Moulton, and Presley Glaser entered as a pinch runner. A sacrifice bunt moved Glaser to second, and she moved to third on an error before scoring on an infield single by Alex Sobrero.
Minnesota had a scoring opportunity in the top of the seventh, as Paige Palkovich led off with a bunt single and reached second on a throwing error by the NDSU catcher. Bree Blanchette then drew a one-out walk, but pinch-hitter Madie Eckstrom lined out to the third baseman and Palkovich was doubled off at second base to end the threat.
The teams battled through two scoreless innings in extra frames before Minnesota finally broke through in the top of the tenth. Sam Macken opened the inning by driving her fourth double of the season over the head of the left fielder, and Kaitlyn Richardson followed by lining her 19th double of the season down the right field line to score Macken and give the Gophers a 2-1 lead.
Groenewegen followed Richardson's RBI double by drawing a walk, and Taylor LeMay advanced the runners and loaded the bases when her sacrifice bunt attempt was fielded and fired to third, but Richardson beat the throw. With one out, Meyer singled to left to score two more runs and stretch the lead to 4-1.
Groenewegen closed out the win by recording her final two strikeouts in a 1-2-3 bottom of the 10th, sending NDSU (36-17) to its first defeat this weekend. At the plate, Groenewegen went 2-for-3 with a pair of runs scored to lead the Gophers.
The extra-inning contest was the first of the season for Minnesota, which played 10 innings for the first time since April 22, 2012 when it dropped a 5-3 decision to Michigan.