Roman Augustoviz spends Minnesota's winters covering college hockey, specifically the Gophers, and other University of Minnesota sports. During the summer, he writes about the WNBA's Minnesota Lynx, with a dose of U sports sprinkled in. Follow him on Twitter @RomanStrib.

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Gophers softball on upswing

Posted by: Roman Augustoviz under Sports, Gophers Updated: February 28, 2014 - 3:33 AM

Back on May 19, 2010, then-AD Joel Maturi, so often criticized when he was in that position, did something right.

He let softball co-coaches Lisa Bernstein and Julie Standering go. Under them the Gophers had fallen on hard times.

The 2010 team was 16-37 overall and a dismal 2-17 in the Big Ten. He said there would be a national search for their replacement. Bernstein had coached the team since 1992 and Standering, an assistant, was promoted to co-head coach in 1997.

It seems Gophers officials hired the right person to succeed the duo.

Jessica Allister became the sixth coach in program history -- Bernstein and Standering were counted as two -- in 2011. She was an Oregon assistant at the time and, before that, an All-America catcher at Stanford.

She has led the Gophers to three solid 30-win seasons, and Minnesota might have its best team ever this season.

Throught 13 games, Allister's team is 12-1, that's the program's best start ever. The loss? That was an ugly 15-2 blowout in six innings two weekends ago. It came to unbeaten and No. 1-ranked Florida, 17-0.

But this weekend, the Gophers get another shot at an elite team. They play in Louisville Slugger Classic in Tempe, Ariz. And their fifth opponent there on Sunday is No. 3-ranked Arizona State (17-0).

So the Gophers will have another shot to make noise in the polls.

They also play three other teams that could be a challenge. Here is the lineup:

Friday: Detroit (2-7) and South Carolina (13-2)

Saturday: Ball State (7-2) and Florida International (12-4)

Sunday: Arizona State.

The Gophers are 10-3 all-time against their first four opponents, 3-10 against the Sun Devils.

Here is the Gophers' record in Allister's four season:

2011      31-24       9-11

2012      31-22      10-14

2013      36-19      14-6 ... third in Big Ten, advanced to NCAA regional for first time since 2003

2014       12-1       ----   ... best nonconference mark in Big Ten

So what makes the 2014 Gophers tick?

1. They have an ace, Sara Moulton. The senior has or soon will have nearly every pitching record in program history. She recently went over 1,000 in career strikeouts.  Moulton is 8-1 with a 0.92 ERA and seven shutouts this season. In 53.1 innings, she has 76 Ks, more than any other pitcher in the league.

She has 93 career wins, 98 complete games and 42 shutouts -- all program records -- and has five no-hitters, including one this season which ties another Gophers career record.

The Gophers lead Big Ten teams in strikeouts with 119 as a team and are fourth in ERA at 1.96.

2. These Gophers can hit, too, especially the batters at the top of the order. Leadoff hitter Tyler Walker, the shortstop, is hittting .439 with two doubles, three triples and a homer. She has 12 RBI and her 29 total bases put her fifth in the conference. No. 3 hitter Kaitlyn Richardson is hitting .417 with four doubles, two homers and a team-high 14 RBI. Cleanup hitter Sara Groenewegen, also the Gophers' No. 2 pitcher as a freshman, is hitting .325 with four homers and 10 RBI.

The Gophers are fifth in the conference with a .305 average and have the most homers, 14.

3. Minnesota can field. Its fielding percentage is .971, third in the Big Ten.

The Gophers have received NCAA bids only eight times: 1988, '91, '96, '98, '99, '02, '03 and '11. Their record in NCAA tournament play is a modest 8-16.

They have won Big Ten regular-season titles only three times: They were co-champions in 1986 and won outright titles in 1988 and '91. So Minnesota's golden era was about 25 years ago.

The Gophers' only Big Ten tournament title came in 1999.

In the USA Today softball rankings this week, the Gophers are No. 19, behind only two Big Ten teams, No. 6 Michigan and No.16 Nebraska.

 
 

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