With its season on the line, No. 21/22-ranked Auburn won its second game of the day on Saturday, May 17, at the 2014 NCAA Division I Softball Minneapolis Regional, as the Tigers scored a run in the top of the seventh inning to eliminate North Dakota State, 1-0.
Auburn (41-18-1), which lost to NDSU by a score of 5-2 on Friday, eliminated Green Bay 9-1 in its first game and turned around to defeat the Bison (36-18) to advance to Sunday's 1:30 p.m. championship game against No. 14/16-ranked Minnesota (43-9).
If the Gophers lose, the teams would play a deciding game approximately 45 minutes after the first game, with the winner qualifying for next weekend's NCAA Super Regionals.
Sophomore left fielder Tiffany Howard provided the winning run, as she led off the top of the seventh by driving her third double of the season to the gap in left center. Howard then advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt, and scored the game's lone run on a single to left by freshman third baseman Kasey Cooper.
The game was a pitching duel, with Auburn sophomore right-hander Lexi Davis and NDSU junior righty Krista Menke holding the offenses at bay until the fateful seventh frame. Davis improved to 21-11 by allowing just four hits and striking out five, while Menke ends her season with a record of 29-9 after surrendering six hits, one earned run and striking out six with a pair of walks.
Sophomore catcher Austyn West was 2-for-2 at the plate for the Tigers, while senior backstop Jenina Ortega went 2-for-3 with a pair of doubles for the Bison.
Minnesota 4, North Dakota State 1 (10 innings)
It took an extra effort, but No. 14/16-ranked Minnesota advanced to Sunday's championship game of the 2014 Division I Softball Minneapolis Regional by recording a 4-1 win against North Dakota State in 10 innings on Saturday, May 17, at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium.
Freshman Sara Groenwegen (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. Groenwegen, 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 K's in 6.1 hitless innings.
The Gophers (43-9) advance to Sunday's championship game, where they will face No. 21/22-ranked Auburn (41-18-1).
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 on a sacrifice fly to left by junior second baseman 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 sophomore second baseman Cheyenne Garcia made a terrific catch of a line drive toward right and threw to second for a double play. The Bison would tie a school single-game record with three double plays.
NDSU pushed across a run in the bottom of the fourth to tie the score at 1-1. Sophomore designated player Jackie Stifter led off by drawing a walk from Moulton, and junior 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 junior centerfielderAlex Sobrero.
Minnesota had a scoring opportunity in the top of the seventh, as sophomore first baseman Paige Palkovich led off with a bunt single and reached second on a throwing error by the NDSU catcher. Senior centerfielder Bree Blanchette then drew a one-out walk, but junior pinch hitter Maddie 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. Freshman right fielder Sam Macken opened the inning by driving her fourth double of the season over the head of the left fielder, and junior third baseman 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.
Groenwegen followed Richardson's RBI double by drawing a walk, and sophomore catcher 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 singles to left to score two more runs and stretch the lead to 4-1.
Groenwegen closed out the win by recording her final two strikeouts in a 1-2-3 bottom of the tenth, sending NDSU (36-17) to its first defeat this weekend. At the plate, Groenwegen went 2-for-3 with a pair of runs scored to lead the Gophers.
Menke recorded the loss. She allowed eight hits, walked five and struck out five.