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.
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