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No, this is not where the Nebraska softball program wants to be.

Coach Rhonda Revelle would be the first to tell you that.

Similar to several games this year, the Huskers dug themselves into a hole against No. 18 Minnesota on a sun-drenched afternoon at Bowlin Stadium on Saturday.

Minnesota hit the Huskers with a five-run inning, and pitcher Sydney Smith didn't allow a hit through five innings. But Nebraska found some daylight in the final innings, scratched out a few runs before running out of outs in an 8-3 loss in front of 1,432 spectators. The Gophers, who have won 11 straight against NU, clinched the series ahead of Sunday's noon finale.

The loss was the Huskers’ 26th of the season, but Revelle sees a team that continues to fight.

“It’s been a challenging season, and it’s been challenging sometimes on defense, sometimes pitching, sometimes offensively,” Revelle said. “But here we are, we sit at the 20th of April, we have a wonderful, beautiful crowd — thank you for coming out — a wonderful, beautiful day, playing the game we love and not giving up.”

At the end of the day, wins and losses matter most. But Revelle continues to see some positive signs and “micro-steps” from a team that had three freshmen in the middle of the lineup.

“You know how they say it’s the darkest before the dawn? I almost feel like that’s what we’re in,” Revelle said. “Not that it’s dark with the way we’re playing, because they’re not giving up or giving in, but as far as getting results. We had a great day last Saturday at Purdue (two wins), then we’ve had two tough days here this week. But by the same token, it’s a different opponent and a different quality of opponent, but we’re not backing down.”

A five-run fourth inning posted by the Gophers and a six-run deficit looked mountainous to climb for the Huskers (15-26, 4-10 Big Ten), with the way Smith was pitching.

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Less than 20 hours after All-American Amber Fiser struck out 13 Huskers in a 3-0 shutout, Smith followed with another complete-game performance. She did it in a different way, coaxing the Huskers into 14 groundouts.

But Nebraska adjusted late. After not recording a hit through five innings, the Huskers had six over the final two, including an RBI single from freshman Lindsey Walljasper in the sixth and a two-run single by junior Tristen Edwards, who had two hits, in the seventh. Smith (10-4), who threw a career-high 133 pitches, was able to finish the game.

“I was proud of the fact that we kept chipping away offensively, and I felt we had some really, really good at-bats in the last two innings,” Revelle said. “Absolutely would love to have those earlier in the game. (Smith’s) a quality pitcher and I think had we been able to not give up that big inning in the fourth, we might have a 3-2 game at this point in time.

“It’s not just the offense. You’re going to have some offensive battles like that, but we’ve got to be able to hopefully avert the big inning."

Minnesota (31-10, 12-1) took a 2-0 lead in the fourth when Natalie DenHartog hit a solo home run, her 12th of the year, to left-center.

But the Gopher offense wasn't done.

A walk, a single and another walk against Walljasper (7-10) loaded the bases for lead-off hitter MaKenna Partain, who hit an infield RBI single. Maddie Houlihan cleared the bases with a hooking triple to left field.

"You give up the home run, those happen," Revelle said of the game-changing fourth inning. "It was the three walks that was tough. Hits are going to happen, but we want to be able to neutralize the free bases."

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Reach the writer at 402-473-2639 or cgrell@journalstar.com. On Twitter @LJSSportsGrell.

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