NORMAN, Okla. — Texas A&M got solid pitching from Emiley Kennedy and the Aggies scattered nine hits to hold off the Gophers 5-1 in the opening round of the NCAA Norman Regional softball tournament Friday afternoon at Marita Hynes Field.
Minnesota (26-25), the No. 3 seed in the four-team regional, faces a must-win game in the double-elimination event Saturday afternoon against the loser of Friday night’s second first-round game between No. 1 Oklahoma (49-2) and No. 4 Prairie View A&M (20-28). The host Sooners are the overall No. 1 seed in the 64-team NCAA tournament.
The Gophers held their own for the first half of Friday’s opener and led 1-0 in the third inning when MacKenzie Denson scored Minnesota’s only run, sliding around the tag to beat out a close play at the plate on Lauren Espalin’s ground out. Denson was pinch running for Sara Kinch, who led off the inning with a walk, and she advanced from first base to third on a throwing error from Aggies catcher Haley Lee.
Texas A&M (30-26) tied the scored with one run in the bottom of the third, then went ahead for good with two runs in the fifth and two more in the sixth.
The Gophers made one last run at the Aggies when they loaded the bases in the seventh. Makenna Down reached on an error and Delanie Cox walked with one out, then Kayla Chavez beat out an infield single with two outs. But Espalin, the tying run at the plate, grounded out to second base to end the inning.
Natalie DenHartog, a center fielder from Hopkins and the Gophers’ all-time leader in home runs, produced two of Minnesota’s four hits, a single in the first inning and another single in the sixth. She extended her hitting streak to 16 games.
Ellee Jensen also singled in the sixth for the U, but both she and DenHartog were left stranded on base.
Emily Leavitt (14-10), the Gophers’ starting pitcher, took the loss. She gave up six hits and three runs in four innings. Autumn Pease finished up, allowing two runs on three hits in two innings. Pease struck out the side in her first inning, the fifth.