SEATTLE – Sara Groenewegen threw 395 pitches in two days last weekend, but North Dakota State coach Darren Mueller said he wasn’t surprised the Gophers softball star was her usual dominant self in the opening round of the NCAA tournament’s Seattle regional.
“She can throw 400, 500 pitches a day,” Mueller joked after Groenewegen struck out 11 in five innings Friday night in Minnesota’s 7-2 victory over the Bison at Husky Softball Stadium.
The Gophers (42-12) won their 15th consecutive game and halted the 14-game winning streak of the Bison (38-14).
Groenewegen, the Division I leader in victories, improved to 31-5.
The four-team, double-elimination regional resumes at 3 p.m. Saturday when the second-seeded Gophers face Washington, the top seed in this regional and the 11th seed in the NCAA field. The Huskies routed Weber State 14-6 in five innings in Friday’s second game.
Groenewegen gave up one run and three hits, but two of those hits and a hit batter loaded the bases with no outs in the fifth inning with the Gophers clinging to a 3-1 lead. She struck out the next three batters.
“Gutsy, gutsy, gutsy,” Gophers coach Jessica Allister said.
“Obviously, she’s a great pitcher,” said Paige Palkovich, the Gophers center fielder. “Physically, she has the skill, but I think what sets her apart from the rest is her mental toughness and how competitive she is.”
Groenewegen’s three strikeouts in the fifth came against pinch hitter Tabby Heinz, dangerous leadoff hitter Cheyenne Garcia and Bison batting leader Logan Moreland. “We had the right hitters up,” Mueller said.
“That was the turning point in the game,” Palkovich said.
Properly inspired, the Gophers scored four runs in the bottom of the fifth. Palkovich’s two-run homer was the key blow after Danielle Parlich and Maddie Houlihan hit back-to-back doubles and Taylor DeMay singled in a run off losing pitcher Jaquelyn Sertic (23-7)..
“I was really happy with the way we played,” Palkovich said. “Coach always says getting the first win [in a regional] is always the toughest.”
Groenewegen, who grew up dreaming of playing for the Huskies while living in nearby British Columbia, said her arm felt fine despite last weekend’s workload at the Big Ten tournament.
“I had a week of recovery,” she said. “I treated myself to the training room quite a lot this week, so I’m ready to go. I’m ready to do whatever this team needs of me.”
Zoe Stavrou, a freshman right fielder for North Dakota State, hit two home runs, matching her season total.
Stavrou blasted a second-inning homer to center field off Groenewegen to give the Bison a short-lived 1-0 lead. She went deep again in the sixth off Nikki Anderson.
“Zoe had a great game,” Mueller said.
“We didn’t know much about her,” Groenewegen admitted.
Stavrou knew about Groenewegen, but the freshman didn’t make things more complicated than necessary.
“Don’t overthink,” she said, “and just attack the pitch she gave me.”
With this win, Groenewegen pulled within one of the school record of 32, set by Sara Moulton in 2013. Groenewegen, a junior, also won 31 games last season.