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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.

Gophers baseball team hoping for better start, better season

Last season started poorly for the Gophers baseball team and ended the same way.

Minnesota opened with Houston and Texas, two talented teams, in the Lone Star State and was 0-7 before getting a win. The Gophers ultimately finished 9-15 in Big Ten play, which put them in ninth place and left them out of the Big Ten tournament at Target Field.

The top eight advance, the Gophers, who had an 0-9 stretch starting in late April, were one conference win shy. Ouch.

The Gophers' overall record was 21-30, which meant only the second losing season for coach John Anderson in 34 years.

His 35th season starts Friday with a 6 p.m. game against Utah, 16-36-1 last season, at Surprise Stadium in Surprise, Ariz. The stadium is the spring training home of the Kansas City Royals and the Texas Rangers. ... Anderson has 1,172 career wins.

The Gophers return 23 players, including 13 pitchers, and have five seniors.

The team had a 5.40 ERA last season, which has to improve, and gave up more than 200 walks.

Senior lefthander Dalton Sawyer and junior righthander Matt Fiedler give Anderson two possible aces.

Sawyer was 4-3 in eight starts and struck out 38 in 49.2 innings.

Fielder, also a regular outfielder, was 2-0 with one save and had a team-best 2.86 ERA in 15 appearances. He held batters to a .173 average. He also had a team-high 31 RBI and hit four homers.

Relievers Jordan Jess and Ty McDevitt, both seniors, are veterans in the bullpen.

The other two seniors are center fielder Dan Motl, a talented leadoff hitter, and second baseman Connor Schaefbauer. Motl hit .291 with 30 runs, 19 RBI and 13 steals last season. He also had a 17-game hitting streak.

Schaefbauer hit only .260 but led the team with 11 doubles and scored 24 runs. He also was second on the team with 17 multihit games.

One of the most promising new players is Eddie Estrada, a 6-0, 220-pound freshman infielder from Litchfield, Minn. He led the Northwoods League in hitting last summer, batting .443, and was tabbed the state's top college prospect from the Class of 2015.

The Big Ten coaches picked the conference's top teams in a preseason poll, but the list included only the top six. The Gophers were not among them.

Based on Anderson's long resume, the Gophers should have a bounce-back season. And slowly the facilities he can offer his players are improving.

There is a new state-of-the-art locker room and, by midseson, a new batting facility next to Siebert Field will be ready, too.

One quirk about this team is its left-handedness. Seventeen players bat left-handed. That's more than any other team from a Power Five conference has.

REST OF WEEKEND

After playing Utah on Friday, the Gophers play three more games this weekend in Surprise, Ariz. The schedule:

* Utah Valley, 11 a.m. Sat. ... 19-35 last season

* Utah, 10 a.m. Sun. ... same opponent as in opener

* Oregon State, 2 p.m. Sun. ... Beavers were 39-18-1 last season and made the NCAA tournament. They were 19-10-1 in the Pac-12 to finish second. This season they are the conference favorites in a coaches' preseason poll and a consensus top 10 team in national polls, being ranked as high as No. 5 by Baseball America.

TV Listings

Local Schedule

< >
  • Lindenwood at Gophers women's hockey

    2:07 pm

  • Gophers football at Penn State

    2:30 pm on BTN, 100.3-FM

  • Twins at Chicago White Sox

    6:10 pm on FSN, 96.3-FM

  • Jacksonville at Minnesota United FC

    7 pm on Ch. 29

  • Twins at Chicago White Sox

    2:10 pm on FSN, 96.3-FM

  • Lynx at Phoenix

    4 pm on ESPN, 106.1-FM

  • Carolina at Wild (preseason)

    5 pm on 100.3-FM

  • N.Y. Giants at Vikings

    7:30 pm on ESPN, 100.3/1130

  • Wild at Colorado (preseason)

    8 pm on 100.3-FM

  • Minnesota United FC at Tampa Bay

    6:30 pm on Ch. 29

  • Gophers women's hockey at Bemidji State

    3:07 pm

  • Iowa at Gophers football

    11 am on TV TBA, 100.3-FM

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