MINNEAPOLIS — Senior Liz Watkins’ fourth inning grand slam propelled the University of Iowa softball team to a 5-4 victory over Minnesota in game two of the Saturday doubleheader at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium. The Gophers won the opener, 4-1, but the Hawkeyes claimed their fifth straight series, taking 2-of-3 games on the weekend.
Iowa concludes the regular season with a 27-26 overall record and a 16-8 mark in Big Ten play to finish second in the conference standings. Minnesota, meanwhile, finishes 31-22 overall and 10-14 in conference play. Both teams will wait to see if it makes the cut for NCAA Regionals, which will be announced Sunday night at 9 p.m. on ESPNU.
Minnesota didn’t waste any time in game two, as it scored a pair of runs in the first and one in the second inning. Leadoff hitter Tyler Walker singled to start the game before coming around to score on Erica Meyer’s RBI triple to right field. In the second, Walker delivered an RBI single to right centerfield to push the Gophers’ lead to 3-0.
After going through the first three innings without a hit, the Hawkeyes strung together a fourth inning rally against Minnesota starter Alissa Koch. With one out, junior Bradi Wall drew a leadoff walk before freshman Megan Blank followed with an infield single to put two runners on.
Senior Katie Keim reached on a fielder’s choice, and Wall advanced to third on an error by Gopher third baseman Kaitlyn Richardson. Senior Liz Watkins then tomahawked a shot over the left field fence for a grand slam to give the Hawkeyes the 4-3 lead. The four RBIs moved the catcher into sole possession of third place on the school’s all-time RBIs list with 137.
Iowa added an insurance run in the top of the seventh inning. Sophomores Michelle Zoeller and Malloree Grove led off the inning with back-to-back singles before moving to second and third on a groundout. Junior Johnnie Dowling followed with an RBI groundout back to Koch on the mound to extend the Hawkeyes’ lead to 5-3.
Minnesota wouldn’t go away in the seventh, as it loaded the bases with one out. A Meyer sacrifice fly to left field cut the deficit to 5-4, but Massey got Richardson to line out to end the game.
Watkins’ long ball provided a jolt for Iowa starter Kayla Massey. After allowing three runs over the first two innings, the sophomore limited the Gophers to one run over the final five frames en route to picking up her 15th victory of the season. Massey scattered six hits in the complete game, finishing with six strikeouts
Six different Iowa players tallied a hit in the game. Watkins led the attack, going 2-for-4 with a run scored and four RBIs.
The Gophers struck first in the opener, using a long ball from the bottom of the order to take a 2-0 advantage. Second baseman and eight-hole hitter Eryka Smith connected on a two-run shot to dead centerfield to grab the early lead.
The Hawkeyes cut its deficit in half in the third. Dowling singled to left field to lead off the frame before moving into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt by Wall. With two outs, Keim then laced an RBI double down the right field line, making the score 2-1.
Minnesota added insurance runs in the fifth and sixth innings. The Gophers loaded the bases with nobody out before Alex Davis had an RBI single on a hard grounder off the glove of Wall into right field. Pinch runner Alex Pafko attempted to score from second base on the play, but Grove gunned her down at the plate, and Iowa avoided further damage.
Minnesota used a pair of doubles in the sixth to push its fourth run across the plate. Bree Blanchette sent a ball into the right centerfield gap to lead off the frame. With one out, Meyer followed suit with second double into the gap, making the score 4-1.
Junior Chelsea Lyon suffered the loss, allowing four runs on eight hits in 5.1 innings. She had four strikeouts, while issuing six walks in falling to 12-15 on the year. Minnesota starter Sara Moulton was credited with the win, allowing one run on six hits with six strikeouts.
Keim and Zoeller led the Iowa offensive attack. Keim went 3-for-3 with an RBI, while Zoeller went 2-for-3.