When the sports world stopped, including college softball, the Gophers had the third best record among Big Ten teams. They were 15-9-1 in nonconference games – all on the road, or at neutral sites.
Unranked Iowa’s mark was a bit better at 17-5; No. 18 Michigan was 15-8. No. 19 Minnesota was scheduled to play in Ann Arbor on the third weekend of the Big Ten season (April 3-5), after opening with Ohio State in Columbus and playing Nebraska at home.
It looked as if the two top contenders for the conference title were going to be Michigan and the Gophers, just like last season.
Coach Jamie Trachsel’s Gophers could pitch, hit and field pretty well. They were hoping to pile up wins in the Big Ten – they were 20-2 in league play last season – to be able to host a regional and maybe a super regional like last season when they made their first appearance ever in the Women’s College World Series.
1-2 punch in circle
All-America pitcher Amber Fiser (photo above by Anthony Souffle) returned for her senior season and was having a very solid season, but not spectacular. She was 10-7 with one save and a 2.17 ERA. She had 145 strikeouts – first among Big Ten pitchers – and was holding opposing hitters to a .189 batting average.
On Wednesday, she announced she was coming back in 2021. The NCAA gave seniors in spring sports that option earlier in the week.
The revelation in the circle was sophomore Autumn Pease, a transfer from Idaho State. She was 4-2 with a 2.12 ERA and was holding foes to a .208 average. She had one of her best games against No. 1 UCLA, the defending national champion, in a 4-0 loss. She gave up only four hits, three of the infield variety, and a grand slam.
Nobody else pitched much.
Top of the order-loaded offense
Leadoff hitter MaKenna Partain and Natalie DenHartog, who batted third, were having all-conference, maybe All-America seasons.
Partain, a senior second baseman, was second on the team – behind DenHartog – with a .349 average, four homers and 19 RBI and led the Gophers with 22 runs and seven doubles. She has not declared whether she is coming back next season.
DenHartog, a sophomore left fielder, was hitting .429 with seven homers and a Big Ten-leading 28 RBI. Softball America rated the right-handed-hitter slugger, with the high leg kick, among its top 100 players in college softball (No. 12) and as the best in the Big Ten.
Fiser was No. 44 in the nation and No. 4 in the Big Ten, and Partain No. 53 in the nation and No. 7 in the conference.
Also showing promise was Ellee Jensen, a redshirt sophomore outfielder who hit .401 two seasons ago but missed all of 2019 and most of this season with stress fractures in her legs. She had returned to play in four games just before the season was shut down. She was 6-for-12 (.500) with two RBI batting second in the lineup.
U by the numbers
2-3-1 Record vs. teams who were ranked in the top 25 when Minnesota played them
2.24 Team earned-run average, fourth in Big Ten
212 Team strikeouts, second in Big Ten
.975 Team fielding percentage, second in Big Ten, .001 behind Iowa
6 Shortened games Gophers won by getting leads of eight or more runs
5 Losses by one or two runs … and number of players with 10 RBI or more
4 Times Gophers were shut out