Lincoln, Neb. - Fresh off an upset over No. 6 Michigan on Saturday, the Wisconsin softball team one upped itself Sunday afternoon with a 9-3 victory over Minnesota in the 2013 Big Ten Softball Tournament title game at Bowlin Stadium in Lincoln, Neb.
The victory marked the fourth-seeded Badgers' first Big Ten tournament championship and secured the conference's automatic berth to the NCAA tournament, their first appearance in the national event since 2005 and fourth in program history.
Junior pitcher Cassandra Darrah went the distance for the Badgers, recording a complete game two-hitter and earned tournament Most Outstanding Player honors. Darrah finished the tournament with a perfect 3-0 record, working all 21 innings for Wisconsin and recording a 1.67 ERA.
Darrah, together with Stefanni LaJeunesse and Maria Van Abel, was named to the 2013 Big Ten All-Tournament team.
"For the first time all season, I really feel speechless about how the team played," said head coach Yvette Healy. "Cassandra (Darrah) really battled after giving up the home run early.
"The team showed so much resilience. The offense bounced back and the bottom of the lineup and our lefties really created havoc and got some big hits and pressured them (Minnesota). I think that was really the key to the game. Our hitters were really tough all day and to come back and tie it up right away, you could tell that everybody was there to battle."
After a pair of scoreless innings, it was Minnesota (35-17) that struck first in the third inning. Following a leadoff walk, Tyler Walker homered to left field to give the Gophers an early 2-0 lead.
The long ball only seemed to encourage the Badgers' offense as it wasted no time getting to work.
Wisconsin (42-11) came right back in the bottom of the third and scored two runs on three hits and two errors to tie the game 2-2.
Wisconsin didn't let the Gophers hang around for long, posting a big fourth inning. Michelle Mueller got things started with her seventh homer of the year, giving the Badgers the 3-2 lead.
With two outs and a runner on first, Van Abel singled up the middle to keep the offense going. Mary Massei reached on an error, loading the bases and setting up another big pinch hit opportunity for LaJeunesse.
LaJeunnese didn't get much of a change to flex her offensive power, as she was hit by the pitch on the second offering from Sara Moulton. Whitney Massey's at bat suffered the same outcome as LaJeunesse's, giving the Badgers a 5-2 lead.
A double by Shannel Blackshear scored two and the Badgers finished the fourth inning with a 7-2 lead over the Gophers.
Minnesota recorded its second hit of the game in the sixth inning, scoring an unearned run after a pair of Badgers' errors.
Wisconsin posted two more runs in the bottom of the inning to take a 9-3 lead and Darrah shut down the Gophers' offense in the top of the seventh to solidify the win.
Darrah allowed just two earned runs on two hits, striking out eight and walking one, in her 26th win of the season.
A trio of Minnesota pitchers combined for nine runs, two earned, on seven hits. Sara Moulton, Minnesota's starter, struck out five and walked one.
"I am really proud of Cassandra, she threw all weekend and earned tournament MVP," said Healy. "Holding Minnesota to two hits with eight strikeouts is huge. The hitters, top to bottom throughout the lineup and off the bench, everybody was ready to battle, put the ball in play and pressure people, force errors and get big hits. It was a huge team win for the program and the school."
The NCAA will announce the 2013 tournament field at 9 p.m. (CT) on ESPNU. Regionals will be held May 16-19 on 16 campus sites. At each campus site, a four-team, double-elimination tournament will be conducted with the 16 winning teams advancing to the Super Regionals.