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.
The Gophers softball team is quietly having an awesome season. The Gophers (32-6, 10-3) will play at Michigan (33-6, 12-0) this weekend with a chance to move into first place in the Big Ten with a sweep.
The Wolverines lead the conference in hitting (.363), pitching (1.54 ERA) and fielding (.981) and are 9-0 at home.
But the U also has got some talent. The Gophers are second in ERA (1.80) and lead the league with 47 homers (Michigan is third with 35).
The Gophers won two of three from hard-hitting Northwestern last weekend, taking the rubber game 3-1 on Sunday on Sara Gronewegen's five-hitter. The Wildcats had scored 18 runs in the first two games.
Tyler Walker hit a two-run homer for the U in the third game and also got hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to drive in all three runs.
The Gophers are 10-2 in road games.
Minnesota is No. 19 in the national RPI ratings in softball, Michigan is No. 18.
It's a three-team race for the NCAA wrestling title.
Three-time defending champion Penn State has 91 points, two wrestlers in the finals, and five in the wrestlebacks, three in hunt for third, two for seventh.
The Gophers are almost in the exact same spot, with 90.5 points, two in the finals, four in the wrestlebacks going for third, one for seventh.
Then there is homestate favorite Oklahoma State. The Cowboys have four in the finals, one in consolation and 87.5 points.
All three have legitimate shots to win it all.
Here are four key matches that could swing the title race:
At 157 pounds, the final between Dylan Ness of the Gophers and Alex Dieringer of Oklahoma State. Going to be big point swing here. ... Ness came in as ninth seed, but has four wins, the first three by pins. He is 27-6 and hot. Dieeringer, the third seed, is 35-1.
Ness said he expects a great watch. Is willing to take risks. Even go on his back for points, which Dieringer said he would never do. Ness said, whose style has been called funky, said even he doesn't know what he will do on the mat sometimes.
Ness was second as a freshman in the NCAA meet, Dieringer was third last year.
At 165, David Taylor of Penn State, 35-0 and the top seed, faces Tyler Caldwell of Oklahoma State in the final. Another big points swing match. If Cowboys can win both, would sure help their chances. Caldwell is 28-3 and the second seed.
At 174, in the wrestlebacks, Logan Storley of Gophers wrestles Matt Brown of Penn State. Winner advances to third place match. Both are 36-7. Brown is 4-1 in NCAA meet, Storley 3-1.
At heavyweight, Tony Nelson, 34-4 and the top seed, faces second seeded Nick Gwiazdowski of North Carolina State in the finals. He is 46-2. Nelson is going for his third consecutive NCAA title. Nobody in U's rich wrestling history has won three. This is last match of the finals, and if Gophers are close to the lead, Nelson could put them over the top. He said he changed his training regimen after four late-season losses. Worked more on moving his feet, always staying active. Had more 20-30 minute intense workouts, rather than longer, grind-it-out workouts. Nelson calls the G-man from NC State athetic and agile.
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.
First the news in Tuesday's metro section of the Star Tribune. Headline: Golf coach fired by U is awarded $360,000.
A Hennepin County judge awarded Katie Brenny the money, writing Brenny had been subjected to disparate treatment based on her sexual orientation (she is a lesbian) the brief time -- under two months -- she was the U associate head women's golf coach in 2010.
The story is here.
In Sports there is another story: Co-medalist lead Laorr leads U women to rare tournament title
It's been six years since the Gophers got to celebrate a title (Diablo Grande Intercollegiate, March 18, 2008 in Patterson, Calif.).
But Tuesday the Gophers won the Entrada Classic, a 16-team tournament in Utah, by eight shots over host BYU with a 931 total. Wisconsin was third 11 shots back and No. 27 California was fourth 12 shots back. Indiana and Iowa finished in the middle of the pack.
The Gophers shot a tournament-low 301 in the third round of the 54-hole event.
Gopher Anna Laorr tied Alexis Nelson of Wisconsin for lowest score, but was awarded first based on having the low final round.
Laorr shot a 6-over 222, and closed with an even-par 72 at Snow Canyon Country Club, her best round as a Gopher. Nelson had a 77 her final round.
Teresa Puga was the last Gopher to win a tournament three years ago, the UCF Challenge on Feb. 15, 2011
“I’m really proud of the way we competed throughout the tournament especially with the way we battled back to pick up the win today,” Gophers coach Michele Redman said. “The conditions weren’t great with some wind, but we overcame that. We’ve kept working hard all season, and we’re starting to see that pay off now. The whole team has supported each other and pushed each other, and that’s great to see as a coach.”
“I couldn’t be happier for Anna,” Redman said. “She played well for us, made smart decisions, and it’s great to see her pick up her first win.”
Laorr, a junior from Eden Prairie, Minn., finished fifth at the tournament last year with an eight-over 222. (Must have made a few course changes.) Last summer Laorr won the Minnesota Women's Golf Association Match Play Championship on August 1.
“I was pretty excited [Tuesday] to be honest, this is my favorite course,” Laorr said. “For about five months, I’ve been trying not to put too much pressure on myself for this tournament. The course played very different than last year, but we played well as a team, and it’s great to be able to celebrate a win together.”
Teammate Carmen Laguna finished tied for 14th (236) while Emie Peronnin tied for 20th (239).
The women's team has been showing signs something like this was coming.
It has had three of the top five rounds in program history before this tournament.
The Gophers shot a 4-under 284 on Feb. 18 of the Central Invitational in Sarosota, Fla., to finish with an 875 total, the third best 54-hole tournament score ever.
Earlier at the University of Central Florida Classic, the team had rounds of 295, 287 and 287 for an 869 total to finish fifth in that event.
The 284 and two 287s are among Minnesota's top-five low rounds.
MEN ON FIRE, TOO
The U of M men's golf team is off to a great start as well.
It won the Del Walker Intercollegiate Golf Classic in Long Beach, Calif., on March 3-4.
Jon Trasmar took fourth place as an individual, teammate Alex Gaugert tied for fifth.
It was the second win of the 2013-14 season for the men, a feat they last accomplished in 2006-07 when they tied for first at both the U.S. Intercollegiate and the Big Ten Championship.
The Gophers had rounds of 280, 276 and 280 for a 4-under 836 total. That was good enough to beat Arizona and California-Santa Barbara by one stroke. Host Long Beach State was two back.
Trasamar finished 4-under with rounds of 66, 70 and 70. During his last round, he had a double bogey on the 10th but recovered with an eagle on the par-5 12th.
Gaugert shot a 69 in each round of the tournament to finish one stroke behind Trasamar at 3-under. Trasamer's fourth-place was his second top-10 finish of the season, Gaugert's fifth was his third top 10.
Jose Mendez tied for 12th, shooting a 69 in the final round. Jon DuToit tied for 30th at 4 over.
The Gophers won their first tournament since that 2006-07 season last fall on Oct. 21. They took first in the 14-team Barnabas Health Intercollegiate in Bedminster, N.J., by 17 shots. There were 14 teams in the field.
Trasamar was second there with rounds of 72 and 66 for a 6-under 138. Guagert took fourth with a 1-under 143.
One other men's highlight this season came on Feb. 15 when they took fifth in the Big Ten Match Play Championships in Bradenton, Fla. The Gophers beat top seed Illinois 3-2 in their second-to-last match.
Arizona State coach Craig Nicholson was getting some tough questions after the No. 3-rated Sun Devils lost two games on Sunday, the first to the Gophers 3-2.
"We are not putting all three parts of the game together," said Nicholson, the first-year ASU coach whose team lost to Ball State 3-0 later on Sunday. That's his former team. "We didn't hit like we normally hit. You can't take anybody for granted."
Certainly not the Gophers, even though they come from the land of ice and cold. The No. 19 Gophers, with ace Sara Moulton on the mound, rallied to beat the Sun Devils with three runs in the sixth inning off ASU's ace.
That makes Jessica Allister's club 15-2, which is the best start in program history and the best record of any team in the Big Ten. One loss was to No. 1 Florida in a rout, the other was to Florida International 3-1 on Sunday in the U's first game.
But the Gophers bounced back from that second loss quickly. Facing All-America pitcher Dallas Escobedo -- 30-6 last season with a 2.32 ERA -- they tied the score 1-1 in the sixth on Kaitlyn Richardson's run-scoring double. Then multi-talented freshman Sara Groenewegen, hitting cleanup, drilled a two-run single for a 3-1 lead.
And against ASU -- a team which has played in six of the past eight College World Series, more than any other program in that stretch, including a trip last year, all three parts of the Gophers' game was clicking.
Moulton improved to 10-1 in the circle. She pitched a four-hitter, struck out eight and got out of a huge jam in the bottom of the sixth. ASU had closed to within 3-2 and had runners on third and second with nobody out.
But on a ball hit to Moulton, she started a double play as the runner from third tried to come home. The ball went to the catcher, then to third for a tag and one out. Then Richardson threw to second base and caught the runner there.
The Gophers, at the plate, got seven hits, including four they bunched together in the sixth.
This is a team that wants to be where the Sun Devils are at. And Sunday's win over ASU was a big step in that direction.
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