Rochester, MN (NorthernSun.org) – The University of Minnesota Duluth defeated top-seeded Augustana University for the second time in as many days on Saturday by a score of 9-0 to win the NSIC Tournament Championship.
This is the Bulldogs’ first conference tournament championship since 2002 and its fifth overall. UMD as a program now holds sole possession of second place for total tournament softball championships. The Bulldogs are also guaranteed a spot in the NCAA Tournament, returning for the first time since 2019.
Senior catcher Sidney Zavoral started the scoring for the third time in four tournament games with a double that sent Kendal Jenkins home to make it 1-0 UMD. Junior outfielder Kat Burkhardt then connected for a two-run homer, her team-leading 10th of the season, to complete Zavoral’s trip around the bases and make it 3-0 Bulldogs.
Next, it was Lauren Dixon’s turn. The junior lefty took the mound for a fourth-straight game in four days. The Vikings landed two runners on base to open the frame, but after that, it was three-straight outs, including a strikeout, to send UMD back up to bat in the second.
Junior Elle Potts would set the tone in the first at-bat of the inning, recording a single. Nicole Schmitt took it from there. The sophomore infielder’s third homer of the year was a huge one, scoring Potts and pushing UMD’s lead to 5-0.
Dixon delivered an even stronger effort in the bottom of the second, allowing only a walk compared to two groundouts and a foul out. Zavoral then kicked off the third inning with her second double, but this would be the Bulldogs’ lone hit this time around. AU connected in the bottom of the third, as Gracey Brink doubled to put herself in scoring position after an opening strikeout from Dixon. The Vikings would walk another runner on base, but the Bulldog defense was able to maintain the shutout heading into the fourth.
Schmitt then struck again with a double in the top of the fourth, and AU made a second pitching change. After a sacrifice bunt from Dea Deleon moved Schmitt from first to second, it was junior infielder Kiana Bender’s turn at the plate. Bender’s team leading 16th double sent Schmitt in to score and pushed UMD’s lead to 6-0.
In the bottom of the 4th, Dixon forced a line out and a ground out before striking out the third batter to earn a 1-2-3 inning. Zavoral then singled for another leadoff hit to start the 5th inning. Dixon then returned to the mound forcing three ground outs and sending the Bulldogs into the sixth with a 6-0 advantage.
After no hits in the top of the 6th, Dixon went back to the mound and struck out the first batter. The Vikings then rallied for two quick hits before grounding to Bender, who sent it to junior infielder Julia Gronholz, who relayed it over to Schmitt at first for a 6-4-3 double play. It was a monumental play from the Bulldog defense that sent the game into the final inning with the score still 6-0.
This left the Bulldogs with one more shot at the plate, and they didn’t take it for granted. Burkhardt would tally a single that brought in not only Bender from third but Jenkins all the way from second to increase the score to 8-0 Bulldogs. The very next at-bat saw Gronholz single to drive home Zavoral for a 9-0 lead.
Dixon returned for the bottom of the seventh with UMD just three outs away from a conference championship. The first two batters grounded out. Dixon then secured the 9-0 win with her 219th strikeout of the year. The junior went seven innings, allowing just four hits and three walks while compiling five strikeouts across 108 pitches.
At the plate, Zavoral was 4-4 with an RBI and two runs. Schmitt went 2-4, securing a pair of RBIs and two runs. Burkhardt was 2-4 with a game-high three RBIs to go with a run scored, and Jenkins went 2-4 making it home two times.
Five Bulldogs landed on the NSIC All-Tournament Team, including Bender, Burkhardt, Dixon, Corrie Weise and Zavoral.
UMD now awaits its placement in the NCAA DII Tournament. The selections for said tournament will be revealed on NCAA.com on Monday, May 8 at 10:00 a.m ET / 9:00 a.m. CT.