The Minnesota Golden Gophers softball team finished their regular season last week with a sweep of the Penn State Nittany Lions. Those wins clinched the Gophers first regular season Big Ten Championship since 1991, and pushed their school record winning streak to 22 games. They also helped Minnesota break the school record for most wins in a season which currently sits at 51 and counting. The firsts continued Tuesday morning as the Gophers were ranked #2 in the nation in the new USA Today National Fastpitch Coaches Association Poll—the highest ranking in school history.
The Big Ten Awards will be announced later this week in conjunction with the Big Ten Tournament, but Minnesota should by all right sweep all of the awards. Minnesota is the best pitching team in the Big Ten. The Gophers as a team have the second best ERA at in country at 1.18. Sara Groenewegen should be a shoo-in for the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year Award. The senior is ranked third in the nation with an ERA of 0.60, third in the nation with 27 wins and ninth in the nation with 256 strikeouts. She needs just 21 strikeouts to break Sara Moulton's career strikeout record of 1,184. Groenewegen was part of a special segment on BTN last weekend as well as she talks about how she has excelled in the circle while maintaining her type-1 diabetes.
Minnesota brings the offense as well. As a team the Gophers have the third best batting average in the country at 0.350. They are second in the nation in scoring at 7.5 runs per game. They lead the nation with 1.78 doubles per game, and are second in the nation with a 0.448 on-base percentage. Sydney Dwyer is second in the nation in RBI with 71—just two behind DJ Sanders of Louisiana. Gopher catcher Kendyl Lindaman is guaranteed to win the Big Ten Freshman of the Year Award, and has a very good chance to be named the National Freshman of the Year. She ranks #4 in the country with 68 RBI on the season. Her .432 batting average is ranked #22 in the nation and leads the Big Ten. She has set a school record with 19 home runs on the season—good enough for 6th in the country and leads the Big Ten. Her on-base percentage of 0.592 is third in the country, and leads the Big Ten. Her slugging percentage of 0.922 is fourth in the country, and leads the Big Ten. Her 52 walks this season has already set a school record and is good for seventh in the nation...and yes leads the Big Ten. Forget the Freshman of the Year, Lindaman has a very good shot at Big Ten Player of the Year.
All in all, things are coming together in a magical season for the Gophers. Minnesota is guaranteed to host an NCAA Regional at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium in 10 days, and if they can hold serve in the Big Ten Tournament this weekend has a very good chance at hosting their first NCAA Super Regional if they can advance to the round of 16. The Top 8 seeded teams by the NCAA get the honor to host a Super Regional, and Minnesota was ranked #7 in the most recent ratings reveal by the NCAA Committee last weekend. But, the competition is stiff so Minnesota must perform well this weekend at the Big Ten Tournament in Ann Arbor.
The Gophers are the #1 overall seed and received a first round bye. They will start their tournament on Friday at 11 AM against the winner of the #8/9 game between Northwestern Wildcats and Purdue Boilermakers. The Gophers could face off against #4 Illinois Fighting Illini in the Semifinals on Saturday. The Illini are the only team to defeat Minnesota in Big Ten Play this season. The complete Big Ten Tournament Bracket is below:
All of the Big Ten Tournament games will air live on BTN. Tune in and watch the Gophers continue to make history.