The #13 Gopher Softball team is off to the best start in program history at 9-0 after sweeping two games each from Notre Dame and NC State at the ACC/B1G Challenge in Raleigh over the weekend. Minnesota went 5-0 the weekend before at the Texas Tournament in Austin defeating Colorado State, Maryland twice, and the Longhorns twice.
Minnesota is being led by 2016 All-American pitcher/1b Sara Groenewegen. She leads the team with a 5-0 record and a 0.72 ERA and 40 strikeouts. Opponents are hitting just .129 against her. Most importantly, she so far has just pitched 29.1 innings this season as Minnesota has two other pitchers who can take the ball in the circle and make an impact.
Senior transfer Tori Finucane joined the Gophers this season after pitching three seasons for Missouri . She was the SEC freshman of the year with a 21-6 record and a 1.73 ERA, and then went 21.8 her sophomore season before missing a majority of her junior year with injuries. She is still trying to regain her form at the U this season as she has a 4.31 ERA in three games this season. Minnesota appears to have found a gem and a second starter in Amber Fiser, from Van Horn, Iowa. Fiser has started three games this season and is 3-0 with a 1.40 ERA.
Another freshman also is leading the Gophers out of the gate. MaKenna Partain is from Banks, Oregon and has stepped immediately into the lineup at second base. She was named the Big Ten Freshman of the week after the Texas Tournament after she hit for a .533 average with eight hits, one double, four RBIs and a .600 slugging percentage. She recorded eight putouts and 10 assists in the field. She continued her hot streak this weekend, and currently leads the team in batting average at .481, and on base percentage at .563.
The Gophers also feature another star freshman behind the plate. Kendal Lyndaman is from Ankney, Iowa. She is third on the team with a .444 batting average and leads the Gophers with three home runs so far this season.
The Gopher veterans are also stepping up as well. Junior first baseman Sydney Dwyer leads the team with 11 RBI on the season, and is second on the tea in batting average at .462. Her five doubles also lead all Gopher batters. Minnesota has an entirely new outfield this season as well. Sophomore Maddie Houlihan, junior Dani Wagner and senior Sam Macken have taken over and provided masterful defense behind the Gopher pitchers. Macken gained some national attention after the weekend in Texas with this rifle from right field to cut down a Longhorn runner trying to take an extra base.
Most impressively for the Gophers is that Groenewegen has not gotten off to a good start offensively. She is hitting only 0.80 this season so far, a year after hitting .296 with 11 bombs. If she can pick up her offensive slack...watch out.
The Gophers will continue to build on their best start in program history next weekend at the Fresno State Tournament. Minnesota will play the host Bulldogs only once along with Cal Poly and Idaho State, and will play UC Davis twice. It should be another 5-0 weekend for the Gophers which will put them just one game short of the program’s all-time winning streak of 15 games which they set last season. The season will get much harder after that with trips to tournaments at LSU and Washington where the Gophers will face the nationally ranked hosts among other nationally ranked teams before the Big Ten season starts in Lincoln against Nebraska at the end of March.