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A splendid start to U's softball season

The Gophers softball team set a record for home runs last season with 80

But shortstop Sydney Dwyer contributed little to that feat. She didn't play much and had only 16 at-bats, hitting one homer.

She matched that 2015 season total Friday in a clutch situation.

With one out and nobody on in the bottom of the seventh inning, Dwyer hit a walkoff homer to center in the Gophers' 1-0 victory over Oklahoma in the Sporto Kickoff Classic in Las Vegas.

"It's awesome, it's something you dream of," Dwyer said. "G's on the mound, a pitchers' duel. It's fun."

"G" is Sara Groenewegen, the overpowering junior righthander who was the Big Ten player of the year last season.

She was superb for the Gophers, ranked No. 13 in the ESPN.com/USA Softball preseason poll -- five spots below the Sooners.

G held Oklahoma to two hits and struck out 14 batters. She issued one walk and hit two hitters. Her control was sharp; she threw 79 strikes, 28 balls. Three batters flied out, three grounded out.

"It always feels good to start the seson with a win," Groenewegen said, referring to the Gophers' 9-0 win over Utah Valley in their first game on Friday. Kylie Stober threw a one-hitter and was backed up with Groenewegen's solo homer in the first and Maddie Houlihan's two-run shot in the third inning.

The Oklahoma game quickly followed.

"That second game was unreal," Groenewegen said. "A great team. And Sydney Dwyer coming through with that homer was unreal. ... This is what we look for."

Oklahoma threatened only twice. In the second inning, the Sooners had a two-out triple, but went down on a strikeout. In the seventh, Groenewegen issued her only walk, and the runner stole second base. But a strikeout retired the side.

The Gophers didn't fare much better against sophomore Paige Parker of Oklahoma. She like Groenewegen was a second team National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-America pitcher last season.

Groenewegen had 31 wins last season, Paige 28.

"Paige Paker is a great pitcher and a lot of people know that," Groenewegen said. "It was expected to be a pitchers' duel, so I am glad we pulled [it] out with a win.

"We definitely struggled off her, but we found a way to pull through and win."

Parker scattered four hits. She struck out nine and walked two.

With runners at the corners in the first inning, the Gophers had a runner thrown out at home on a grounder to the shortsop.

The Gophers left six runners on base, the Sooners three.

On Saturday at Eller Media Stadium, the Gophers will play Texas Tech at 1:15 p.m. and Long Beach State at 3:30 p.m.

Texas Tech has played three games in this tournament, beating UNLV 7-3 on Thursday, and the next day beating Utah Valley 5-1 before losing to Washington 14-5.

The Red Raiders have played the Gophers four times, beating them 5-3 the last time in the Sportco tournament in 2013. ... Tech was 25-26 last season, but finished 9-3 in its ast 12 games.

***

Here was the Gophers' batting order vs. Oklahoma:

1. Sam Macken, 3B, jr. ... hit second or first last year. ... had .363 average with seven HRs, 35 RBI

2. Danielle Parlich, 2B, so. ... one of best freshmen in country last season, hit team-high .400

3. Sara Gronewegen, P/DP, jr. ... one of best pitchers in country, sixth on espnW's list of top 25 players in country, reigning player of year in Big Ten, won 31 games last season, hit team-high 12 homers, hit .372

4. Taylor LeMay, C, sr. ... Started at catcher in 113 of team's 116 games the past two seasons ... excellent glove, .992 fielding percentage, hit .310, .404 in true road games ... seven homers, 38 RBI

5. Paige Palkovich, CF, sr. ... another returning .300 hitter, hit .310 with six HRs and 31 RBI

6. Maddie Houlihan, 1B, fr. ... freshman out of Benilde-St. Margaret's, had a double and homer in first two college at-bats ... was a hitting machine in high school

7. Sydney Fabian, RF, sr. ... hit .293 last season with a .634 slugging pct. ... hit .438 on road

8. Sydney Dwyer, SS, so. ... used as PH last season and played SS or 3B a bit ... only 16 at-bats, hit lone homer in first at-bat last season

9. Kayla Wenner, LF, sr. ... hit .151, six steals, 37 starts last season

Starters by class: four seniors, two juniors, two sophomores, one freshman
 

Play ball! Gophers open softball season Friday

This may or may not turn out to be the best Gophers team in history. But one thing is certain. It starts the season higher than any other, No. 14, one spot higher than a year ago.

And it's led by one of the most dominante pitchers in college softball: junior Sara Groenewegen. espnW listed her sixth on its top 25 players in the country.

Groenewegen was the Big Ten player of the year last season when the Gophers finished 49-11 and lost 7-6 in eight innings  to Arizona in an NCAA regional final.

She had a 31-7 record plus two saves, a 1.67 ERA and 379 strikeouts. Oh, yes, she also hit .372 with 12 homers and 44 RBI.

Also returning are three other pitchers, including senior Nikki Anderson who was 10-2 and sophomore Kylke Stober who was 8-2. Their ERAs were nearly identical, 3.36 and 3.35.

Minnesota was an offensive juggernaut last season as well, setting program records in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, runs and homers.

Its winning percentage of .817 was also a program best. That team and the 2014 team both started the season 8-0.

That might be a tough task to duplicate when the Gophers open the season with two games on Friday in the Sporto Kickoff Classic in Las Vegas.

They face Utah Valley (18-41 last year) at 1:15 p.m. at Eller Media Stadium. The Wolverines led the nation in double plays last season. It's the first ever meeting between these two.

Then they play No. 8 Oklahoma at 3:30 p.m. The Sooners are the four-time defending Big 12 champions and are favored in a preseason coaches poll to finish first in the conference again.The Sooners return six of eight all-region players and have an ace in sophomore Paige Parker. She had a 1.65 ERA last season, nine shutouts and 28 wins.

The Gophers lost seven seniors, including two stars, first baseman Kaitlyn Richardson and shortstop Tyler Walker, whose career batting averages were .374 and .356, respectively.

But coach Jessica Allister has 15 returning players, including second baseman Danielle Parlich who hit a team-high .400 as a freshman and was first team all-Big Ten.

Other key players are third baseman Sam Macken and catcher Taylor LeMay.

Macken, a junior, hit .363 with seven homers and 35 RBI. Pretty good numbers, especially for someone who hit first or second.

LeMay, a senior, has started 113 of 116 games behind the plate the past two seasons. She had a .992 fielding percentage last season and didn't make a single error in Big Ten games. She hit .310 overall, .404 in true road games. The Gophers won 20 of those, tying for the national lead.

Another key returning player is senior outfielder Paige Palkovich. She hit .310 last season with six homers and 31 RBI.

The Gophers should be able to score some runs.

TV Listings

Local Schedule

< >
  • Gophers men's basketball at Iowa

    6:30 pm on BTN, 1500-AM

  • Iowa at Gophers women's basketball

    7 pm on BTN, 88.5-FM

  • Wild at Vancouver

    9 pm on FSN, 100.3-FM

  • Wild at Calgary

    9 pm on FSN, 100.3-FM

  • Gophers women's basketball at Indiana

    6 pm on 88.5-FM

  • Maryland at Gophers men's basketball

    7 pm on BTN, 1500-AM

  • Wild at Edmonton

    8 pm on FSN, 100.3-FM

  • Timberwolves at Memphis

    7 pm on FSN, 830-AM

  • Wisconsin at Gophers women's hockey

    7:07 pm

  • Wisconsin at Gophers women's hockey

    3 pm on BTN

  • New York at Timberwolves

    7 pm on FSN, 830-AM

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