MINNEAPOLIS -- History was made at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium on Sunday afternoon. Minnesota won the second of two elimination games at the 2014 NCAA Minneapolis Regional, defeating Auburn 8-6 to reach its first NCAA super regional and prevent the host Tigers from the same accomplishment.
Freshman left fielder Sam Macken’s three-run home run to right center in the bottom of the sixth inning provided the winning runs, as the Gophers rallied from a 6-3 deficit with five runs in the final three frames.
The Gophers snapped a three-game winning streak in the past two days by Auburn, improving to 44-10 before a stadium-record crowd of 1,189 on Sunday. Auburn had won the first game of the afternoon 4-3 as freshman pinch hitter Jenna Abbott hit a walk-off home run in the eighth inning.
Minnesota moves on to face top-seeded Oregon (52-7-1) next weekend in Eugene, Oregon.
The Gophers took the first lead of the day against the Tigers in the bottom of the first inning, as junior shortstop Tyler Walker led off with a single to left center and reached second with two outs.
Auburn sophomore right-hander Lexi Davis, who was called for three illegal pitches in the Tigers’ 4-3 win earlier in the afternoon, was called for another to move Walker to third. After freshman pitcher Sara Groenwegen drew a walk to put runners at the corners, sophomore catcher Taylor LeMay singled under the glove of the AU shortstop to score Walker.
The Tigers responded with a pair of runs in the bottom of the second to take a 2-1 lead. Junior centerfielder Morgan Estell led off with an infield single and freshman designated player Jenna Abbott followed by drawing a walk.
A grounder to first moved the runners to second and third with two outs, and freshman pinch hitter Madi Gipson came up with a clutch single to left to give the Tigers a 2-1 lead.
Groenwegen walked sophomore Tiffany Howard, and fourth-year Minnesota head coach Jessica Allister made the decision to make a pitching change, as senior righty Sara Moulton entered the game and was able to get out of the frame without further damage.
Minnesota didn’t waste any time to retake the lead, as junior second baseman Erica Meyer led off with a single through the right side and stole second base before scoring the tying run on a double to left center by sophomore right fielder Maddie Eckstrom. With two outs, Eckstrom scored from third on a fielding error by AU’s first baseman to give the Gophers a 3-2 lead.
The back-and-forth swings continued in the top of the third, and an Auburn pinch hitter came through with another huge hit, as the Tigers loaded the bases with no outs before junior McKenzie Kilpatrick launched a grand slam just over the wall in left field to make it 6-3 in favor of AU. The home run was the eighth of the season for Kilpatrick, and it was her first career grand slam.
Needing a spark, Minnesota found one in sophomore pitcher Nikki Anderson. The left-hander entered the game with one out in the top of the fourth, and she struck out the first two batters she faced.
The Gophers used the newly gained momentum to score a pair of runs in the bottom of the fourth. Meyer opened the inning by beating out a grounder to the second baseman for an infield hit and advanced to second on an errant throw. Eckstrom followed with a double over the head of the right fielder, her second double of the afternoon, to put runners at second and third.
After Walker drew a walk to load the bases with one out, Meyer scored on a sacrifice fly and Eckstrom crossed the plate on a single to left by junior third baseman Kaitlyn Richardson to cut the Tigers’ lead to 6-5.
That set the stage for Macken’s sixth-inning dramatics, as she drove the first pitch she saw over the fence near the scoreboard to put Minnesota back in front.
Anderson (3-1) allowed a two-out single in the top of the seventh, but got a grounder to second to seal the victory. She struck out four and gave up just two hits over the final 3.2 innings.
Walker, Richardson, Meyer and Eckstrom each collected two hits in the win to record Minnesota’s first regional title.