The Minnesota Gophers Softball team is still smarting over the rejection by the NCAA Softball Committee. Minnesota would love to be opening NCAA Tournament play at home this weekend (though looking at the weather, they may have dodged a bullet). But the Gophers have refocused that anger and energy back into their mission at hand. Win Anyway.
Minnesota open the Tuscaloosa Regional against Louisiana Tech at 1:30 Friday afternoon.
The Gophers come into the NCAA Tournament as the #1 team in the nation in the USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association Poll. They are #3 in the ESPN/USA Softball Poll behind #1 Florida and #2 Oregon. So while the Gophers are not the seeded home team this weekend, they may not be a true underdog either. But the pressure will be on Minnesota to live to to the hype and prove that they do belng at the top of the NCAA Softball heap.
Minnesota has has a historic season. They won the Big Ten Regular Season Championship for the first time since 1991, and won the Big Ten Tournament for the third time in four years. They have set too many school records to count. They have set a record for wins in a season at 54 and counting. They currently have a record 25-game winning streak, which broke the previous 19-game record set in the first 19 games of the season. The Gophers won a record 15 individual awards from the Big Ten this season including having the Big Ten Player and Freshman of the Year in catcher Kendyl Lindaman, The Big Ten Pitcher of the Year in Sara Groenewegen, and three additional First Team All Big Ten Players in Maddie Houlihan, Allie Arneson, and Danielle Parlich. Gopher coach Jessica Allister was named the Big Ten Coach of the Year and is a near shoo-in for National Coach of the Year Honors. Lindaman is a Top-11 finalist for the National Freshman of the Year Award, and Groenewegen is a Top Ten finalist for the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the year Award.
Lindaman was just the fourth player in Big Ten History to win both the Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year in the same season.She led the Big Ten in home runs (20), slugging percentage (.942), walks (60), on-base percentage (.608) and batting average (.438). Nationally she ranks third in on base percentage and slugging percentage and sixth in RBIs and home runs.
Groenewegen is the Gopher ace going 30-2 on the season with a 0.59 ERA. She has thrown two no-hitters this season including the first ever in the Big Ten Tournament. The senior ranks third nationally in ERA and victories and ninth in strikeouts. It will be interesting to see how Allister uses her in the regional. For a majority of the season Groenewegen has started the first and third games of a weekend series. However, arguably the Gophers toughest and most important game may be a matchup in the winners bracket with Alabama in the second game of the weekend Saturday afternoon. Will Allister go back to Groenewegen in back to back games? Will freshman Amber Fiser get the start against the Crimson Tide? Or will Fiser get the start in a much easier game Friday against Louisiana Tech?
Minnesota’s offensive firepower will be something that no team in the regional has seen all season. The Gophers lead the nation in doubles per game at 1.74, are second in the country in on base percentage at 0.452 and scoring at 7.4 runs per game. Their 0.348 batting average is third in the nation, and their slugging percentage of 0.553 is #4 in the country. The opposing pitchers will need to shut down the Gophers hot bats if they want to keep Minnesota from advancing.
Louisiana Tech Bulldogs- 37-22 Conference USA Champions
Record vs Common Opponents: 1-3 (W vs Indiana, L vs LSU, Texas X2) (MN 6-0)
The Bulldogs have a three-headed pitching attack. Preslee Galloway is 14-13 in 25 starts on the season, Krystal De La Cruz is 11-3 in 15 starts and Bailey Allen is 7-2 in 14 starts. Galloway appears to get the game 1 starts in most series so she is most likely to see the Gophers on Friday. She has an era of 2.84 and has given up 14 home runs on the season. Minnesota has seen many better pitchers on the season. The Bulldogs leading batter is outfielder Morgan Turkoly who is hitting 0.390 on the season. She is second on the team behind Taria Page in rbi with 35. As a team the Bulldogs hit .285 on the season and averaged 5.14 runs per game. Their 2.35 ERA ranks 41st in the nation.
Albany Great Danes- 27-16 America East Champions
Record vs Common Opponents (0-0)
The Great Danes are the least likely opponent for Minnesota, as as long as the Gophers win their first game, Albany will most likely be eliminated before Minnesota would have an opportunity to meet up with them. They also have three starting pitchers with Bailey Turner going 8-5 in 16 starts, Celeste Verdolvio going 8-8 in 16 starts, and Devin Durando going 8-3 in 11 starts. As a team the great Danes have an ERA of 3.60. On offense Albany is led by Elizabeth Snow who is hitting .439-good enough for 13th in the country. She leads the NCAA in doubles per game with 0.49, and is second in the nation with a .982 slugging percentage. As a team Albany hits .297.
Alabama Crimson Tide—42-16 5th in the SEC (12-11)
Record vs Common Opponents 2-3 (W vs LSU x2, L vs LSU, vs Washington x2) (MN 1-2)
Alabama is the the obvious strongest team in the regional besides Minnesota. It would be a massive upset if a team other than Alabama or Minnesota won a game in the regional. Alabama is led by their pitching staff. They have a duel attack with Alexis Osario going 21-7 in 25 starts, and Sydney Littlejohn going 15-8 in 24 starts. Osario is 6th in the nation with 305 strikeouts on the season and leads the NCAA with only 2.81 hits allowed per seven innings. As a team the Crimson Tide’s 1.56 ERA is 10th in the country. Offensively Alabama has been strictly middle of the pack. Their 4.4 runs per game ranks 121st in the nation and just 11th in the 13 team SEC. Their team .284 batting average is not much better ranking 101th in the nation and 9th in the SEC. Bailey Hemphill leads the Tide with a .324 batting average, 8 home runs and 39 RBI. Alabama will run when they get on the basebaths however as are 39th in the country in stolen bases per game.
The Gophers match up well with all three teams in the regional. Alabama will be the toughest task by far, and with the loud sellout home crown behind them will have a home field advantage. However, this is where the Gophers non-conference schedule for as much as it has been maligned comes back in their favor. They beat a ranked LSU team in Baton Rouge. They beat Texas twice in Austin. They lost a tough game to Washington in Seattle. The Gophers are road battle tested, and will not let the atmosphere in Rhodes Stadium get to them.
If Minnesota can hit as well as they have this season, they should sweep through the regional without losing a game. Alabama has the potential to play spoiler though with their pitching duo. Minnesota will need great appearances from Groenewegen, but if she is on her game, the Gophers will be the team to beat.
The Gophers game against Louisiana Tech on Friday at 1:30 will air live on ESPN U. TV for the rest of the games of the regional have not yet been announced but will air on one of the ESPN family of channels as the ESPN networks will air every game of the NCAA Softball Tournament this season. The schedule for the regional is below:
Friday, May 19 – Game #1: La Tech vs. Minnesota 1:30pm CT
Friday, May 19 – Game #2: Albany vs. Alabama 4:00pm CT
Saturday, May 20– Game #3: Game 1 winner vs. Game 2 Winner 1:30pm CT
Saturday, May 20 – Game #4: Game 1 loser vs. Game 2 loser 4:00pm
Saturday, May 20 – Game #5: Game 3 loser vs. Game 4 winner 6:30pm CT
Sunday, May 21 – Game #6: Game 3 winner vs. Game 5 winner 1:30pm CT
Sunday, May 21 – Game #7 (If Necessary): 4:00pm CT