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.
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.
Illinois and Nebraska finished 1-2 in the Big Ten women's indoor track and field meet a year ago, separated by three points, 115 to 112. It was the closest battle for the indoor title since 2002.
The Gophers were a distant seventh with 56 points.
The Maroon and Gold isn't considered a title treat this year either but could win several individual titles and maybe a relay or two.
Last year Illinois took first in five events and second in two others. Penn State and Purdue are the only Big Ten teams in the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches national team computer ratings. The Nittany Lions are No. 11, the Boilermakers No. 17.
Alena Brooks of the Gophers has the top seed times in the 600- and 800-meter runs, 1:28.57 and 2:04.90. ... She was fifth in the 600 last year.
Molly Kayfes is the second seed in the 5,000 (16:19.12), Liz Berkholz the fourth (16:31.86) and Laura Docherty the seventh. ... Docherty and Kayfes took second and third in the 5,000 last year, respectively.
Jess Heraut has the third best total in the indoor pentathlon (4,008), Megan Geyen is the fifth seed in the 400 (54.41) and Katie Murgic is the sixth seed in the pole vault (13-2 1/4).
The Gophers' distance medley is seeded second, the 4x400 relay third. The 4x400 took fourth a year ago -- 22 hundreths of a second off the school record -- and three of those runners are members of the relay again: Geyen, Te 'Shon Adderly and Brooks. The new member is Titania Markland. They set a new school record this year of 3:38.10 in the Bill Bergen Invitational in Ames, Iowa.
Back on May 19, 2010, then-AD Joel Maturi, so often criticized when he was in that position, did something right.
He let softball co-coaches Lisa Bernstein and Julie Standering go. Under them the Gophers had fallen on hard times.
The 2010 team was 16-37 overall and a dismal 2-17 in the Big Ten. He said there would be a national search for their replacement. Bernstein had coached the team since 1992 and Standering, an assistant, was promoted to co-head coach in 1997.
It seems Gophers officials hired the right person to succeed the duo.
Jessica Allister became the sixth coach in program history -- Bernstein and Standering were counted as two -- in 2011. She was an Oregon assistant at the time and, before that, an All-America catcher at Stanford.
She has led the Gophers to three solid 30-win seasons, and Minnesota might have its best team ever this season.
Throught 13 games, Allister's team is 12-1, that's the program's best start ever. The loss? That was an ugly 15-2 blowout in six innings two weekends ago. It came to unbeaten and No. 1-ranked Florida, 17-0.
But this weekend, the Gophers get another shot at an elite team. They play in Louisville Slugger Classic in Tempe, Ariz. And their fifth opponent there on Sunday is No. 3-ranked Arizona State (17-0).
So the Gophers will have another shot to make noise in the polls.
They also play three other teams that could be a challenge. Here is the lineup:
Friday: Detroit (2-7) and South Carolina (13-2)
Saturday: Ball State (7-2) and Florida International (12-4)
Sunday: Arizona State.
The Gophers are 10-3 all-time against their first four opponents, 3-10 against the Sun Devils.
Here is the Gophers' record in Allister's four season:
2011 31-24 9-11
2012 31-22 10-14
2013 36-19 14-6 ... third in Big Ten, advanced to NCAA regional for first time since 2003
2014 12-1 ---- ... best nonconference mark in Big Ten
So what makes the 2014 Gophers tick?
1. They have an ace, Sara Moulton. The senior has or soon will have nearly every pitching record in program history. She recently went over 1,000 in career strikeouts. Moulton is 8-1 with a 0.92 ERA and seven shutouts this season. In 53.1 innings, she has 76 Ks, more than any other pitcher in the league.
She has 93 career wins, 98 complete games and 42 shutouts -- all program records -- and has five no-hitters, including one this season which ties another Gophers career record.
The Gophers lead Big Ten teams in strikeouts with 119 as a team and are fourth in ERA at 1.96.
2. These Gophers can hit, too, especially the batters at the top of the order. Leadoff hitter Tyler Walker, the shortstop, is hittting .439 with two doubles, three triples and a homer. She has 12 RBI and her 29 total bases put her fifth in the conference. No. 3 hitter Kaitlyn Richardson is hitting .417 with four doubles, two homers and a team-high 14 RBI. Cleanup hitter Sara Groenewegen, also the Gophers' No. 2 pitcher as a freshman, is hitting .325 with four homers and 10 RBI.
The Gophers are fifth in the conference with a .305 average and have the most homers, 14.
3. Minnesota can field. Its fielding percentage is .971, third in the Big Ten.
The Gophers have received NCAA bids only eight times: 1988, '91, '96, '98, '99, '02, '03 and '11. Their record in NCAA tournament play is a modest 8-16.
They have won Big Ten regular-season titles only three times: They were co-champions in 1986 and won outright titles in 1988 and '91. So Minnesota's golden era was about 25 years ago.
The Gophers' only Big Ten tournament title came in 1999.
In the USA Today softball rankings this week, the Gophers are No. 19, behind only two Big Ten teams, No. 6 Michigan and No.16 Nebraska.
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