2013 Big Ten Softball Tournament: Wisconsin takes down Minnesota in championship, 9-3

@BadgerSoftball

An offensive outburst at the plate complemented another brilliant outing from Cassandra Darrah, handing the Badgers their first Big Ten tournament championship.

The Wisconsin Badgers have another conference championship under wraps.

After a 9-3 win over Minnesota Sunday afternoon at Bowlin Stadium in Lincoln, Neb., Wisconsin won its first Big Ten softball tournament championship. The Badgers knocked seven hits one day after collecting nine in a 9-3 semifinal win over Michigan, and once again the offensive outburst complemented a strong outing from junior right-hander Cassandra Darrah, who was named the tournament MVP. Darrah surrendered three runs (two earned) on two hits over seven innings, striking out eight and walking just one. In her three tournament starts against Northwestern, Michigan and now Minnesota, Darrah allowed just six runs (five earned) on 12 hits over 21 innings and struck out 20 batters while walking only six.

The win hands Wisconsin the Big Ten's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, which will be held May 16-19.

Neither team put a runner on base until the third inning, which Minnesota led off with two runs courtesy of a two-run homer by sophomore shortstop Tyler Walker. The Badgers quickly evened the score, however, in the bottom frame. Freshman second baseman Ashlee Van Zeeland reached on a throwing error by third baseman Kaitlyn Richardson and went to third on another throwing miscue, eventually scoring when the next batter, sophomore DP Marissa Mersch, doubled to left. Mersch scored two batters later off a single by junior right fielder Marry Massei.

The fourth inning was even more productive, as a leadoff homer by junior third baseman Michelle Mueller prompted a five-run, three-hit outburst. The Badgers loaded the bases off a walk, a single and another Minnesota throwing error before the Gophers' junior right-hander Sara Moulton hit pinch-hitter Stefanni LaJeunesse with an 0-1 pitch to score junior shortstop Stephanie Pearce. Moulton also hit the next batter, senior catcher Whitney Massey. The next batter, senior first baseman Shannel Blackshear ripped a double to left-center, scoring two more runs and chasing Moulton from the game.

Moulton lasted 3 2/3 innings, surrendering seven runs (two earned) on six hits. She also struck out five Badgers and walked one.

Minnesota added its third and final run in the sixth, off a Richardson single with one runner on. Wisconsin added two more in the bottom frame thanks to another Gophers error before the Badgers closed the game with a relatively easy seventh inning, giving up only a throwing error by Mueller.

The Badgers will find out their seeding for the NCAA tournament during the selection show tonight at 9 p.m. CT on ESPNU. Regionals begin on May 16, and the tournament will consist of a four-team, double-elimination tournament at 16 campus sites. The 16 winning teams will then advance to the Super Regionals. Wisconsin's last NCAA tournament appearance was in 2005, when it hosted and lost two regional games at Goodman Diamond.

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