OKLAHOMA CITY – Jessica Allister had turned around the Gophers softball program in seven seasons and, in mid-July 2017, accepted an offer to become the coach at Stanford, her alma matter.
A week later, Jamie Trachsel took the Gophers’ job after a six-year run at North Dakota State and one successful season at Iowa State.
Trachsel said the first call she made was to Piper Ritter. She wanted Ritter to remain as the Gophers’ pitching coach, a point Trachsel emphasized by saying:
“All you do is spit out All-Americans.”
Ritter can be found in the Gophers’ record book as Piper Marten, a record-breaking pitcher from 2001-04. She became the Gophers’ pitching coach in 2008 and was retained by Allister two years later, when co-coaches Lisa Bernstein and Julie Standering were fired.
“I’d say, yes, it is a surprise that I’ve been here with three head coaches,” Ritter said. “The coaches that have come in have asked me to stay. My roots are in Minnesota, and I love this program, so it’s been an honor to stay.”
The honor has belonged to Allister and now Trachsel, after it was revealed Wednesday afternoon that Ritter has assisted in the development of a third All-America pitcher for the Gophers.
First there was Sara Moulton, a second-team pitcher on the National Fastpitch Coaches Association’s All-America squad in 2014. Then there was Sara Groenewegen, a second-teamer in 2015 and a first-teamer in 2016 and 2017.
On Wednesday, there was a news conference for the coaches in the early bracket for the Division I fastpitch championship: College World Series veterans Kelly Inouye-Perez of UCLA, Heather Tarr of Washington, Mike Candrea of Arizona and the rookie, Trachsel.
Star pitcher Amber Fiser was also brought along with the small Gophers delegation. She wasn’t aware of the reason and only was told to stick around.
A few minutes after the coaches were done, one player from each of those four teams was brought to the platform, a name plate was placed in front of them and it was announced they were NFCA All-Americas.
Fiser was one of three pitchers selected, along with Oklahoma’s Giselle Juarez and Washington’s Gabbie Plain. UCLA’s Rachel Garcia was listed as a utility player/pitcher.
Garcia also was sitting next to Fiser. They will be pitching opponents Thursday afternoon when the upstart Gophers take on UCLA, making its 29th appearance since the NCAA started a softball World Series in 1982.
“[Fiser is] a difference-maker in our program, no question,” Trachsel said. “We keep telling her she’s good, but she really doesn’t know how good she is. That’s one of the biggest compliments you can give someone, let alone someone who has done what she’s done for this program.”
Fiser is a junior, and assuming she’s as giddy to be a Gopher as she has been continually stating, her ongoing success will make quite a decade for Ritter with ace pitchers: first Moulton for four years, then Groenewegen for three and Fiser for three with another season remaining.
“Sara Moulton had an exceptional drop ball,” Ritter said Wednesday. “Groenewegen was famous for her changeup, but more so, she just wouldn’t give up. She put it all on the line to the last pitch.
“Even though they are nothing alike as pitcher, I think it helped Amber to watch Sara work. As a freshman, Amber’s idea was to throw it past everybody.
“What I did see in Amber was the same attitude as Sara: To put it on the line to the last pitch. She put in the work to get stronger, to work those innings. She’s also more creative in going after hitters.
“Amber’s the hardest thrower I’ve had, but there’s a mix of pitches that makes her one of the best in the country.”
Ritter calls all the pitches for Fiser. That’s why you see Amber glancing at the crib notes taped at her left wrist.
“It’s taking advantage of all the data we have now,” Ritter said. “We scout every hitter on videotape. This way, the pitcher can concentrate on executing the pitch, not deciding on what pitch to throw.
“And our pitchers can shake it off [and] go to another pitch if she doesn’t feel convicted in what has been called.”
Fiser was asked about that this week: “I can shake it off, yes, but I haven’t done it often. Piper’s pretty good.”
The evidence of that is Ritter bringing out the best in a line of All-Americas in this decade: Moulton-to Groenewegen-to-Fiser.