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Nobody's playing where she was last year with unbeaten Gophers softball team

The Gophers are 18-0 this season. And the amazing part of that record is all the changes coach Jessica Allister has made.

There was a new player at every position last Sunday -- when the Gophers rallied to beat Illinois State 7-3 -- and in almost every game this season.

The only player who trots out to her same position is Sara Groenewegen, when she pitches.

Here's a look at all the changes:

TWO FRESHMAN START

MaKenna Partain of Banks, Oreg., starts at second base. She is hitting a team-high .472 and was named the Big Ten's freshman of the week for a second time this season on Monday. Partain has started all 18 games and has made only three errors. She is third on team with 10 walks and has scored 15 runs.

Kendyl Lindaman of Ankeny, Iowa, starts at catcher. She leads the team in homers with five, has 14 RBI and is hitting .370. She, too, has started every game.

She is tied for second in homers among Big Ten players, and is third in total bases with 39. She also has thrown out six of the 12 players who have tried to steal on her.

THE HOLDOVERS

Sam Macken, a senior from Rochester, Minn., has moved from third base. where she played 56 games last season, to left field. She is hitting .266 with 11 RBI; had two big hits last Sunday vs. Illinois State in late innings. She is the leadoff hitter. Macken leads outfielders with 18 putouts.

Danielle Parlich, a junior from Queen Creek, Ariz., has moved from second base to third base. She is hitting .377 and has 26 hits, tied for second in the Big Ten, and has scored a team high 17 runs, tied for third among conference players. Has only one walk, but has struck out just twice. Made five errors at a tough position. She has at least one hit in every game.

Maddie Houlihan, sophomore from Benilde-St. Margaret's, has moved from first base to right field. She is hitting .375 with 14 RBI. Hasn't shown the power yet she did last season (11 HRs) when she was Big Ten freshman of the year. Has seven doubles, tied for first in the Big Ten, but no homers yet.

Sydney Dwyer, a junior from Bettendorf, Iowa, moved from shortstop/designated player to first base. She is hitting .434 and leads team with 20 RBI.

Dani Wagner, a junior from Hayfield, Minn., has moved from shortstop to center field. She is hitting .360 with three homers and 14 RBI. Last season she played in 44 games, started in 22, all at shortstop. She was often a pinch-runner, succeeding on all six of her steal attempts.

Sara Groenewegen, senior from White Rock, British Columbia, is the one player whose position has not changed when she is in the circle. She starts as designated player when someone else pitches. Groenewegen is 9-0 with a 0.50 ERA and 77 Ks in 56.1 innings.

She has struggled at the plate, hitting only .163 with nine RBI on one double and eight singles. Last season she had 11 HRs and 41 RBI and hit .296.

THE TRANSFERS

Sophomore Allie Arneson transfered from Virginia, where she started 43 of 44 games. She has started all 18 games for the Gophers and is hitting .194. She has some pop in her bat, of her eight hits, two are doubles and two are homers. She had 20 putouts, 33 assists and only three errors. She has been a part of five double plays.

Senior pitcher Tori Finucane is the other key transfer. She came from Missouri. She is 3-0 with a 2.50 ERA. She gives the Gophers another reliable starter.

Groenewegen legend grows a bit as Gophers take Big Ten title

Junior Sara Groenewegen, the Gophers pitching-hitting machine, was not named the Big Ten player of the year this season.

Sierra Romero of Michigan was. Groenewegen won the award last season.

And Groenewegen wasn't named the conference pitcher of the year.

That major postseason honor went to Michigan's Megan Betsa. Groenewegen got that award two years ago when she was also picked Big Ten freshman of the year.

But on Saturday, the Gopher from White Rock, British Columbia, earned a pretty big honor herself. She was named the Most Outstanding Player in the Big Ten softball tournament in College Station, Pa.

It was a no-doubter. It could not have been anybody else.

In the final two days of the tournament, Groenewegen won three games, pitching every inning, 24 in all.

She beat Illinois 2-0 on a one-hitter in Friday's quarterfinals.

She hit a three-run homer in the incredibly long first semifinal Saturday  -- which was broken up with almost a one-hour rain delay after the fourth inning -- and ended with the Gophers beating good-hitting Northwestern 8-4. She got her 300th strikeout of the season near the end of that game that took nearly four hours.

And, then, for the capper, Groenewegen beat No. 2 Michigan 4-3 in 10 innings. It took 3 hours, 40 minutes.

She threw almost 300 pitches Saturday, but got the job done: 125 pitches vs. Wildcats, 158 vs. Wolverines

Minnesota won its second Big Ten tournament title in two years -- and third in school history. The first came in 1999, the second in 2014 with a 3-2 win over Michigan.

"A lot of people outside of Minnesota softball don’t believe we can do it,” Groenewegen said in a postgame interview on the Big Ten Network, “and they don’t believe we can be in the top-25 in this country, and I think this proves right there that we can compete with anyone in the country.”

Romero hit a solo homer off Groenewegen in the top of the first inning but Minnesota answered in the bottom when leadoff hitter Sam Macken walked and came around to score on a wild pitch.

The title game quickly turned into a pitchers' duel between Metsa and Groenewegen.

Metsa went nine innings. She was more stingy on hits, giving up only three and striking out 10. But she had control problems, walking eight and hitting two batters.

Groenewegen, in her 10 innings, gave up two earned runs, nine hits and two walks. She struck out 11.

"Sara Groenewegen just laid it all on the line," Gophers coach Jessica Allister said. "This is one of the gutsiest performances I have seen."

"This means so much to us," said Groenewegen, who cried and laughed in the postgame celebration.

The teams each scored a run in the third and another in the sixth, and then it was the bottom of the 10th.

Michigan put in senior Sara Driesenga to pitch. She got a quick strikeout. But then No. 8 hitter Sydney Dwyer singled to right, the opposite field, and stole second. Sydney Fabian got on base on an error by the third baseman.

Then after a force out at third for the second out, Danielle Parlich came up with runners at first and second. Her sharp grounder went off the leg of the shortstop into center field. It was the second error of the inning and fourth of the game for Michigan.

Fabian rounded third and ran toward home and slid. The throw from the center fielder was high and to the left of home plate, allowing Fabian to slide in under the tag.

Ball game.

Allister described the Gophers in one word: "Resilient -- that was a tough game."

Notes: Macken and Houlihan of the Gophers also were named to the all-tournament team along with Groenewegen.

This was the first extra inning championship game.

Michigan is 46-5 now, the Gophers 41-12.

The NCAA selection show will be at 9 p.m. Sunday on ESPNU.

TV Listings

Local Schedule

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  • Twins at Philadelphia (spring training)

    12:05 pm

  • Philadelphia at Wild

    7 pm on FSN, 100.3-FM

  • Baltimore at Twins (spring training)

    6:05 pm on FSN, 96.3-FM

  • Timberwolves at L.A. Lakers

    9:30 pm on FSN, 830-AM

  • Minnesota United FC at New England

    1 pm on Ch. 29, 1500-AM

  • Vancouver at Wild

    1 pm on FSN, 100.3-FM

  • Gophers men's hockey vs. Notre Dame

    2:30 pm on ESPNU, 1500-AM

  • Twins at Baltimore (spring training)

    5:05 pm on 96.3-FM

  • Timberwolves at Portland

    9 pm on FSN, 830-AM

  • Wild at Detroit

    11:30 am on Ch. 11, 100.3-FM

  • Boston at Twins (spring training)

    12:05 pm on FSN, 96.3-FM

  • Twins at Pittsburgh (spring training)

    5:05 pm on 96.3-FM

  • Tampa Bay at Twins (spring training)

    12:05 pm on FSN

  • Timberwolves at Indiana

    6 pm on FSN PLUS, 830-AM

  • Washington at Wild

    7 pm on NHLN, 100.3-FM

  • Twins at Boston (spring training)

    12:05 pm on 96.3-FM

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