LINCOLN — Minnesota ace Sara Moulton avenged an earlier loss to Nebraska on Saturday by blanking the Huskers 1-0, advancing the Gophers to the finals of the Big Ten softball tournament at Bowlin Stadium.
Since losing to Nebraska on April 16, Moulton has gone 9-0 with five shutouts, including a 4-0 victory over Penn State on Friday to earn another crack at the Huskers (40-13).
“Losing to them earlier gave us the motivation to beat them today,” Moulton said.
The only run Saturday off Husker pitcher Emily Lockman — who matched Moulton with five strikeouts and gave up only three hits to Moulton’s four — came after Paige Palkovich, a .178 hitter, was hit by a pitch to start the sixth inning.
Palkovich went to second on a groundout and then scored on a single by catcher Kari Dorle. The one run proved to be enough when Moulton set the Huskers down in order in the seventh for the fifth time in the game.
“It was one of those games where things don’t go your way,” Lockman said.
Nebraska coach Rhonda Revelle credited both pitchers with great games.
“She (Moulton) didn’t get to 31 wins without throwing well,” Revelle said.
Moulton now has a 31-9 record and 1.54 ERA. She was named to the All-Big Ten first team, but lost out to Nebraska’s Tatum Edwards for conference pitcher of the year.
Moulton’s earlier loss to the Huskers came when Nebraska won both games of a doubleheader in Lincoln.
“It’s hard to beat a great team three times in a row,” Revelle said.
The Husker coach said Nebraska and Minnesota are about as evenly matched as possible. Both games in April “were just like this,” she said.
The Huskers missed their big chance in the top of the sixth, when three straight singles failed to produce a run.
First, Jordan Bettiol reached first with a one-out bunt single. Then Tatum Edwards singled into shallow center field and Gabby Banda sent a fly ball just over the outstretched glove of the third baseman.
Moulton then got the last two outs with a strikeout and a groundout.
“How often do you have three hits in a row and don’t score?” Revelle said.
Moulton was in command from the beginning, setting down the first 14 Husker batters. She never walked a batter in seven innings. Nebraska second baseman Hailey Decker was the Husker’s first baserunner after a single in the fifth.
Lockman walked only one batter, but hitting Palkovich in the sixth was critical.
Minnesota started the second inning with a walk and a single and had runners on second and third with none out. But a strikeout by Lockman and nifty fielding plays by first baseman Mattie Fowler allowed NU to get out of the inning without a run.
Fowler first scooped a grounder and threw out the first runner at home for the second out. She then knocked down a sharp grounder from Gopher designated player Alex Davis and backhanded a throw to Decker to nip Davis at first.
The Huskers had other fielding gems to keep the Gophers from scoring in the early innings.
A double play in the third from Decker to shortstop Alicia Armstrong at second to Fowler at first cleaned the bases after Palkovich singled to open the inning.
In the fourth, Banda stabbed a line shot near the foul line, throwing out the Gophers’ Kaitlyn Richardson at first to set up a one-two-three inning.
The Huskers will find out Sunday night whether they will be selected to host an NCAA tournament regional next weekend. Regardless of the site, the 14th-ranked Huskers are certain to be playing in the tournament.
“Either way,” Lockman said, “we are going to postseason play, and we’re excited about that.