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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Can Gophers continue best softball start ever? Big Ten games on deck

Posted by: Roman Augustoviz under Sports, Gophers Updated: March 21, 2014 - 3:47 AM

Almost halfway through its regular-season -- without playing a single home game, the Gophers softball team is an impressive 22-3.

They have traveled to six different states to play: Arizona, Louisiana, Nevada, North Carolina, South Carolina and Oklahoma. ... Lost to the nation's No. 1 team, Florida; beat Arizona State, then No. 3, and Louisiana State, then No. 17.

The Gophers have repeatedly shown they are for real. They lead the Big Ten in ERA, 1.57, in shutouts, 11, and strikeouts, 238. Mostly because they have an ace, senior righthander Sara Moulton.

She won her 100th career game when the Gophers edged South Carolina 1-0 on Wednesday and is 15-2 this seson with a 1.17 ERA.

This team can also handle a bat. The Gophers' batting average is only .294, fifth in the Big Ten. But they are first in homers with 30, in RBI with 131 and in slugging percentage at .509. They have a bit of speed, too. Their 37 steals are the third most in the conference.

And they can field adequately. Their .965 fielding percentage is fifth in the Big Ten.

Here's a look at Gophers' batting order -- scary at the top:

Shortstop Tyler Walker leads off. She is hitting .380 and has scored a team-high 24 runs. She gets on any way she can. Walker has walked four times and been hit by a pitch six times. She has some pop: four doubles, four triples, two homers. Has 20 RBI, second on team.  And some speed, seven stolen bases in eight attempts. Good contact hitter, with only nine strikeouts.

Second baseman Erica Meyer bats second. She hits only .250 but has scored 17 runs, had seven sacrifice bunts or flies. Has hit four homers and like Walker is 7-for-8 on steal attempts.

Hitting third is the stick that stirs the Gophers' offense, to borrow a line associated with Reggie Jackson at one time. Third baseman Kaitlyn Richardson is hitting a robust .446, with five homers and 27 RBI, all tops on the team, in 25 games. Her slugging percentage is .800. She has scored 22 runs and walked a team-high 21 times. Teams pitch carefully to her. Only five strikeouts.

The cleanup hitter is a freshman, Sara Groenewegen. She is the team's second pitcher and when not in the circle, the designated player. She is hitting .274. Has six doubles, a triple and four homers and 16 RBI. Nice to have someone like Groenewegen behind Richardson so she gets some pitches to hit.

Bree Blanchette, the centerfielder, bats fifth. She is hitting only .243 but her 17 hits have helped drive in 14 runs and she has scored 13. Has eight walks.

No. 6 hitter Taylor Lemay, the catcher, has a team-high six homers and 14 RBI. She is hitting .283 with a .600 slugging percentage. She has scored 13 runs. The Gophers had a big hole to fill behind the plate when Kari Dorle graduated, but LeMay has done the job.

Leftfielder Sydney Fabian is the No. 7 hitter. She is hitting a solid .304 with 14 runs scored and 11 RBI.

Hannah Melick the first baseman hits eighth. She has struggled at the plate. She is hitting .132 with four RBI.

Kayla Wenner, the rightfielder, bats No. 9. She is hitting a low .184 with seven RBI and 11 walks.

The Gophers are No. 16 in one national poll, No. 19 in another. They play No. 15/17 Nebraska(19-8) at 6 p.m. Friday at Bowlin Stadium in Lincoln in their conference opener. Not the easiest place to win.

They are averaging 5.72 runs per game.

Minnesota is hoping to play Illinois next weekend at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium, its home field, weather permitting. That's a big if, of course.

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