Minnesota beats Michigan to win Big Ten Tournament on walk-off hit

By Jake Lourim, Daily Sports Writer
Published May 10, 2014

In the 11th game of a wild Big Ten Softball Tournament that had already seen co-champion Nebraska lose to No. 7 seed Ohio State, Michigan’s fate finally changed. The Wolverines and Minnesota matched each other run for run, hit for hit, pitcher for pitcher — until a walk-off single eliminated the Wolverines three hours after it saved them.

Minnesota (16-6 Big Ten, 41-9 overall) upset Michigan in the seventh inning Saturday to win the Big Ten Tournament, 3-2.

Michigan junior left-hander Haylie Wagner gave up a leadoff walk in the seventh but retired the next two to bring up leadoff hitter Tyler Walker. When a stolen base and wild pitch moved the runner to third, the Wolverines walked Walker to bring up left fielder Sam Macken.

The final game of the tournament ended on Macken’s high chopper to second that skipped past Michigan freshman Abby Ramirez into right field.

The Gophers celebrated on Northwestern’s Sharon J. Drysdale Field, while the Wolverines (18-5, 42-12) will have to redirect their focus to the NCAA Tournament starting next week.

Both teams advanced earlier Saturday — Minnesota in a run-rule victory over Ohio State, Michigan on a walk-off win over No. 4 seed Wisconsin — as well as Friday, but at times, it looked like both teams saved their best for last.

Senior center fielder Lyndsay Doyle made the game’s first big play with a leaping catch at the warning track to rob Minnesota right-handed pitcher Sara Groenewegen. In the fifth, the Wolverines turned an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play to get Walker at first. Walker had her own nice plays, though, most notably when she snagged a liner off the bat of Nicole Sappingfield that likely would have driven in the go-ahead run in the seventh.

Michigan junior right-hander Sara Driesenga and Big Ten Pitcher of the Year Groenewegen started the game and worked quickly into the fourth inning. Midway through the game, they gave way to Wagner, the Big Ten earned-run average leader, and right-hander Sara Moulton, respectively — and they were even sharper.

Michigan got on the board in the fourth when senior first baseman Caitlin Blanchard doubled and sophomore outfielder Sierra Lawrence reached on an error. Junior catcher Lauren Sweet drove them in with a two-run single down the right-field line.

Not to be outdone, the Golden Gophers responded with a two-run outburst in the bottom half. Groenewegen and third baseman Kaitlyn Richardson, a first-team All-Big Ten honoree, hit solo shots to tie the game back up.

Wagner replaced Driesenga after the home runs, and Moulton came in for the fifth inning. Moulton speared a grounder with two on and two out in the fifth, while Wagner struck out designated player Hannah Granger to end the sixth with two on. But she needed at least one more shutout inning, and the Gophers denied her that.