Minnesota right-hander Amber Fiser held Maryland softball largely ineffectual at the plate through the first four innings, leaving the Terps’ backs were against the wall when they fell behind.
The Golden Gophers had broken through in the top of the fifth inning, plating four runs on right-hander Sydney Golden. Minnesota managed one more in the sixth, complicating a potential comeback bid further.
But when second baseman Regan Kerr to the plate for Maryland in the sixth, the freshman singled up the middle to start a three-run Terps rally to tighten the series finale. The offense got going too late, though, and Maryland’s 5-3 loss secured Minnesota’s sweep to begin Big Ten play.
“We showed a lot of fight,” coach Julie Wright said. “We didn’t give in, and that really shows something for our young team… I feel like they’re growing leaps and bounds daily.”
Strong pitching efforts kept the game scoreless through four innings. Fiser held Maryland hitless until designated player Sammie Stefan’s single in the fifth.
Golden, meanwhile, sidestepped out of danger in the second. Shortstop Allie Arneson reached on a leadoff walk and was bunted over to second. Designated player Taylor Chell singled up the middle and Arneson rounded third, but center fielder JoJo McRae fired home to nab the would-be scorer at the plate.
But the Gophers would break through in the fifth, taking advantage of two Maryland errors to score four runs on five hits in what became the deciding rally. After three singles loaded the bases with one out, a misplayed ball by shortstop Bailey Boyd brought home the first run.
A single into center brought in a second before a throwing error from McRae allowed two unearned runs to score later in the frame.
“I thought Sydney pitched outstanding, but we faltered a little bit on defense,” Wright said. “She’s going to get you a lot of ground balls, so a lot of action on defense, which is also opportunity to make more mistakes.”
Fiser, who was named the Big Ten Pitcher of the Week on Monday, retired the Terps in order in the first inning, a sequence that would become a pattern for the junior.
By the middle of the fourth, the game was still tied 0-0, a stark contrast to Saturday’s blowout 19-5 blowout. The tide seemed to turn in the fifth inning though, as Maryland lost the sharpness it had through the first half of the game. Minnesota capitalized off the miscues to go up 4-0 before tacking on another run in the top of the sixth with an RBI double.
“We had some mistakes here and there,” Stefan said, “but I felt like after those mistakes we did a good job at getting it back together.”
But Maryland, starting with Kerr’s single, tightened the contest in the bottom of the sixth. McRae hit a single and Kerr advanced to second. Then, third baseman Anna Kufta launched a triple to right-center field to score Kerr and McRae, giving the junior 35 RBIs this season.
“Things started to come together,” Kufta said. “Seeing [Fiser] for the third time, it gets a little bit easier.”
The next pitch, catcher Gracie Voulgaris doubled to left-center to get Kufta home and make it a two-run game.
“One of the things I said to them in the huddle was that I just felt like they were trying, but they weren’t doing,” Wright said.
After a runless seventh for the Gophers, it was up to Fiser to close out the game. Fiser walked Stefan to open the final frame, but secured Minnesota’s sweep by striking out pinch-hitter Micaela Abbatine.
Fiser finished with seven strikeouts and one walk in seven innings. Wright felt getting hits on one of the best pitchers in the conference will give her team some confidence going forward, but hopes to see better results as Big Ten play continues with Ohio State next weekend.
“We’re not into moral victories,” Wright said. “We just want to win, so that’s what we’re going to get after and try to do against Ohio State.”