After 24 nonconference games, the Gophers softball team, which began the season at No. 8, has dropped to No. 19 in the USA Today/NFCA rankings and is 15-9-1 after last weekend's 2-2-1 showing in southern California.
The Gophers haven't been able to put together a winning streak longer than five games. But they have five nonconference games left in Hawaii this week before their Big Ten schedule starts, including their 3-2 victory over the University of Hawaii in a game that began Thursday at 1 a.m.
Their record is not much worse than last year when they were 17-7 after 24 games, began Big Ten play 18-8, then went 20-2 in the conference and reached the Women's College World Series for the first time.
Five takeaways after last weekend:
1. She's back. It was a big plus to have redshirt sophomore Ellee Jensen, an outfielder who hit .400 two seasons ago, back in the lineup. If only as the designated player to hit. She had not played since March 10, 2019 because of stress fractures in her legs. She played in three games last weekend – one per day -- went 4-for-8, with four runs scored, two RBI, two sacrifice bunts and a steal. Jensen batted No. 2, between the team's top two hitters, MaKenna Partain and Natalie Hartog.
2. Milestone win. Coach Jamie Trachsel (pictured middle above), in her third season at U, got her 100th win when the Gophers beat Long Beach State 3-2 in eight innings on Friday. Her record is 101-40-1. Her first team at Minnesota was 41-17, her second 46-14. Her career record is 345-184-1.
3. Far-out numbers. In two games last weekend, one stat per game was way out of whack for the Gophers. They had seven steals in a 10-0 win over Cal Poly in five innings on Saturday. They came into the game with 10 in 21 games. Obviously, the coaches saw something that made them think the steal was always there. Partain and Brooke Vander Heide had two steals each, Jensen, DenHartog and Carlie Brandt one apiece. For season, Gophers are 17 for 19 on steals. Maybe they should run more. Kai Barrett, Cal Poly catcher, has thrown out only five base stealers in 34 attempts. ... The other anomaly was the five errors in a 5-5 tie with Central Florida on Sunday (game was called after eight innings because U had a flight to catch for Hawaii). Only two of Central Florida's runs were earned. Minnesota has committed only 17 errors total. But in this game, third baseman Katelyn Kemmetmueller had a fielding error and catcher Sydney Strelow a throwing error in the first inning; shortstop Carlie Brandt a throwing error and center fielder Vander Heide a throwing error in the second, and Brandt a fielding error in the seventh.
4. Two pitching gems. Amber Fiser was one strike away from a perfect game in U's 10-0, five-inning win over Cal Poly. But the 15th hitter beat out a chopper to third base for a hit. She struck out 11 hitters. ... In second game Saturday, Autumn Pease was impressive in a 4-0 loss to UCLA. She began the game with three 1-2-3 innings vs. the No. 1 Bruins (25-1). No pitcher had done that this season. In the fourth, UCLA loaded the bases on an infield hit to second, a bunt single to first and an error. Delanie Wisz then hit a grand slam for the third hit of inning. Pease struck out the next two hitters and finished with seven strikeouts and no walks. She allowed only one other hit, a bunt single in the fifth. One swing turned out to be the difference in this game.
“We are really good at supporting each other when we are in big moments,” Fiser said on the Gophers’ softball podcast this week. “We get happy for one another. That is hard to find.” Said Pease, a first-year transfer from Idaho State, on the same podcast: “I pitch exactly like her, not showing emotions. We have the same command on the field but we pitch completely different. Where Amber is the hard stuff and I come in with the changeup, keeping batters off balance. We are really a good mix and it is even better we are friends off the field. We have that bond on and off the field.”
5. Rainbow Wahine Classic lowdown. The Gophers end their two-week spring break with five games in Honolulu. They play Hawaii (9-14) twice, Texas Tech (16-9) twice, and Drexel (4-6) once. Obviously a 5-0 week, or at least a 4-1 week would be a nice springboard to the Gophers' first Big Ten series, at Ohio State (8-9), the following weekend in Columbus. They did not play OSU last season.
Fiser actually had a key role in the Gophers playing a tournament in Hawaii. “We are getting a lot of time to see what Hawaii is all about. This trip is something I have been asking for the past three years,” Fiser said. “… It is great that it finally happened and I am really happy it is spring break, senior year.”