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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Wait 'til next year -- Gophers should be even better in softball

Posted by: Roman Augustoviz under Gophers Updated: May 27, 2014 - 3:30 AM

Not sure what Jessica Allister's contract situation is, but Norwood Teague is lucky to have her.

The softball program looks like it is in good hands.

In Allister's fourth season, the team reached its first super regional, won the Big Ten tournament, and went 44-12.

And, there's this, going into the seventh inning on Sunday, the Gophers were within a run, 3-2, of the favorite to win the NCAA tournament. Oregon wound up sweeping the U 10-2 (not a good game for the Gophers) and 6-2.

But Minnesota has the core of its team returning. Pitcher Sara Moulton will graduate and she owns most of the program's career records. So, too, will center fielder Bree Blanchette. She hit only .204 but had 24 RBI, tied for fifth on the team. Good defensively, too.

The only other senior is Kelsey Klucas, who was used only as a pinch runner. ... The seniors won 142 games in their four seasons, reaching 30-plus every season.

But Sara Groenewegen and Nikki Anderson should be able to eat up most of Moulton's innings.

Groenewegen was the Big Ten pitcher of the year and freshman of the year. She's a good arm to build a staff around. She threw a no-hitter and also 6.1 no-hit innings in one relief outing in the regional at Minneapolis.

She can strike batter out, 11.6 per seven innings -- best rate in country. Oh, and she can hit, too. Batted .299 with 11 homers. She plays first went not in the circle.

Anderson, a sophomore, actually had the best ERA on the team, 1.60. She also trhrows hard and had 51 strikeouts in 42 innings. Made 20 relief appearances. Closed the door on Auburn in the championship game of the regional in one of them.

Gophers also signed righthander Kylie Stober of Lakeville South.

So the Gophers should be more than OK in pitching.

Hitting? The Gophers will return two of the best in the Big Ten, first team all-conference picks Kaitlyn Richardson and Tyler Walker, who play third and short. Richardson hit .418 with 21 double, 10 homers and 51 RBI.

Walker hit two homers against Oregon. She also has pop, especially for a leadff hitter with a .382 average. She had 13 doubles, eight triples and 12 homers and 50 RBI. Also got hit 12 times by pitches. So she got on base a lot.

The Gophers return their top four players in RBI and Erica Meyer, who tied for fifth with 24.

Besied Stober, the Gophers also signed five other players, two from Minnesota, one from Michigan, one from Iowa and one from Arizona.

After the second loss to Oregon ended the Gophers' season, Richardson said, "You have to give us credit, we've done a lot this year."

Allister expects her team to come back hungry, wanting to do even more next season.

"The more you get a taste of thing, the more you want it. ... [Getting to Super Regionals for the first time] is a huge step for our program."

And on Sunday, when the Gophers needed to win twice, the day began with bad news.

Groenewegen, who was scheduled to start the first game that day was unavailable. She was ruled out because of injury.

The Gophers didn't say what was wrong with her, but Oregon coach Mike White didn't hesitate. He said Groenewegen had a concussion.

Would have been interesting to see Groenewegen, a strikeout pitcher, against the aggressive Ducks.

Maybe next season.

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