The Gophers have a freshman catcher who is obliterating their softball team’s batting records. They have a senior pitcher who allows runs so sparingly, you need a microscope to see her ERA.
Their lineup is stacked, top to bottom. They are one of the Big Ten’s best fielding teams and lead the conference by a wide margin in batting average (.351) and ERA (1.18).
“This is the most complete team we’ve had,” said Jessica Allister, the team’s seventh-year coach.
On Wednesday, the Gophers swept the Big Ten’s individual awards with catcher Kendyl Lindaman (Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year), Sara Groenewegen (Pitcher of the Year) and Allister (Coach of the Year) all honored.
The Gophers went 22-1 in conference play to win their first Big Ten regular-season title since 1991. They’ve won a program-record 51 games overall — believed to be the first Gophers team of any sort to surpass 50 victories in a season since the pre-NCAA days (1970s) of women’s volleyball. And still to come: the Big Ten tournament this weekend followed by another trip to the NCAA tournament.
It has been a meteoric rise for the program, to No. 2 nationally in the coaches’ poll, and the Gophers have posted some mind-boggling numbers along the way.
Start with the rookie
19: Home runs for Lindaman. The Gophers’ previous record of 15 had stood since 2003, when Jordanne Nygren hit 15.
.932: Slugging percentage for Lindaman. The previous record was .752 for Kaitlyn Richardson in 2014. This statistic measures the number of total bases a player averages per plate appearance. Lindaman ranks fourth nationally.
.592: Lindaman’s on-base percentage. The Gophers’ previous record was .569 by Malisa Barnes in 2011. Reaching base nearly six times every 10 plate appearances, Lindaman ranks third nationally in this category.
.432: Lindaman’s batting average. She’s within striking distance of the program record in this category, too. Amber Hegland batted .438 for the Gophers in 1996.
52: Walks for Lindaman. The previous record was 49 by Barnes in 2011. Lindaman has put so much fear into pitchers, she’s walking about once per game, with several plate appearances still to come.
Lindaman leads the Big Ten in home runs, slugging percentage, walks, on-base percentage and batting average. Her success has surpassed anything Allister imagined when she recruited Lindaman out of Ankeny, Iowa.
“We thought she was great,” Allister said. “You never expect anyone to put together the freshman — or any season — that she’s putting together.”
Lindaman said being part of such a stacked lineup makes all the difference.
“Our 1-through-9 hitters are amazing,” she said. “If I do get walked, I know I’ve got eight other girls behind me, and everyone else on our team can step up and get a hit.”
Then there’s Groenewegen
0.60: Her ERA leads the Big Ten and is tied with Lynn Schlichting’s mark from 1983. Schlichting had a remarkable season that year, but she set her mark in 69 fewer innings than Groenewegen has pitched.
.153: The opposing batting average against Groenewegen, matching the team record set by Judy Oliverius in 1985 — another pitching mark that has stood for more than three decades.
1,163: Groenewegen’s career strikeout total. She has 256 this season and needs 22 more to surpass Sara Moulton’s school record of 1,184, set earlier this decade.
Groenewegen is 27-2 and leads the Big Ten in victories and earned run average. She had surgery to repair a torn medial collateral ligament in her knee last summer and has enjoyed a lighter pitching load this season.
Last year, she pitched 24 innings at the Big Ten tournament, carrying the Gophers to the title. But it caught up with her the next week, when Minnesota got eliminated from the NCAA tournament by Washington.
Fiser a solid No. 2
This year, freshman Amber Fiser has emerged as a dominant No. 2 starter for the Gophers, going 13-0 with a 1.55 ERA. So Groenewegen has pitched 174 innings, compared to 193 heading into the Big Ten tournament last year.
“I’m feeling better than I’ve ever been at this stage of the season,” Groenewegen said. “So we’re excited.”
She’s surrounded by better talent, too. Before this season, the Gophers had never had more than three first-team All-Big Ten honorees. This year, they have five: Lindaman, Groenewegen, Maddie Houlihan (outfield), Allie Arneson (shortstop) and Danielle Parlich (third base).
Three others earned second-team All-Big Ten honors: Sam Macken (outfield), Sydney Dwyer (first base) and Dani Wagner (outfield).
RBI: Dwyer is at 71 and Lindaman is at 68. Shannon Beeler had 74 in 1998.
Wins: Groenewegen needs six more to pass Moulton’s record of 32, from 2013.
Team average: The Gophers are batting .351. The 2015 squad batted .339.
Team on-base percentage: The Gophers are at .449, a better clip than the .437 mark from two years ago.
Walks: The Gophers already have drawn a program-record 237 walks and will shatter the record of 234 from last season.
Lowest opposing batting average: The Gophers are at .180. The program record is .190 from 1983.
Fewest losses: Before this year, the fewest games the Gophers had ever lost in a season was 11, in 2015. This season, their three losses have come against Washington (March 10 and 12) and Illinois (April 1).
22 and counting
The Gophers are riding a 22-game winning streak heading into the Big Ten tournament after opening the season with a 19-game streak. They are in position to host the first round of the NCAA tournament next week, and if they advance, they also could get their first chance to host an NCAA Super Regional the following weekend.
“Yeah it’s great to be No. 2 in the country,” Groenewegen said. “But we want more. We’re hungry.”