Gophers open season with five consecutive victories

Sara Moulton and Sara Groenewegen impressed as Minnesota knocked off No. 17 LSU and won the Tiger Classic.

Minnesota junior Sara Moulton pitches during a doubleheader against Wisconsin on Sunday, April 7, 2013, at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium.

Image by Jaak Jensen, Daily File Photo

Minnesota junior Sara Moulton pitches during a doubleheader against Wisconsin on Sunday, April 7, 2013, at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium.

by Betsy Helfand

Minnesota’s starting pitching stifled its opposition this weekend as the softball team began its season with five straight wins.

With the five wins, the Gophers won the Tiger Classic and are off to their best start since 2003.

“We should absolutely draw confidence from [this weekend],” head coach Jessica Allister said.

Allister said she was pleased with her team’s overall performance in its first series of the year and said the biggest takeaway was the team’s fight over the weekend.

“You never know what the first weekend’s going to look like,” she said. “We’ve been practicing inside, and to see us come out and not be fazed by being outside, stick together and win some really close, gritty games was really encouraging.”

Gophers starting pitchers senior Sara Moulton and freshman Sara Groenewegen pitched a combined 34.0 scoreless innings over the weekend.

“I think what’s even more impressive is that they pitched their way out of some situations, so that’s always a good thing,” Allister said.

For Moulton, who tied the school’s wins record this weekend, that type of dominant performance is the norm.

Allister said it was encouraging to watch the freshman Groenewegen pitch her way out of pressure situations in her first collegiate weekend in the circle.

“I don’t think you ever expect that [performance],” Allister said, “but we thought she was definitely capable of it.”

Moulton said Groenewegen came out confident and used all of her pitches well.

“We’re all very proud of her,” she said.

Groenewegen could provide a viable No. 2 option  in the pitching rotation this season.

Moulton is without a doubt the No. 1 option on the team, but she could benefit from another arm in the rotation.

While the Gophers pitching stole the show over the weekend, the team also saw success with the bats, scoring 22 runs in five games.

The weekend was highlighted by a 1-0 win over No. 17 LSU in Baton Rouge, La., and punctuated by a walk-off 1-0 win against Oklahoma State.

While those two wins were the most notable wins of the weekend, Minnesota also managed to take down Murray State, Southern Illinois-Edwardsville, and Central Arkansas.

Gophers junior shortstop Tyler Walker said the win over LSU was a good marker for the team early in the season.

“We came out with the win, and we still have a lot more talent than what showed in that game,” Walker said.

Sunday’s game against Oklahoma State was a pitchers’ duel. Minnesota finally pulled away in the bottom of the seventh, thanks to aggressive base running to go along with some sloppy play from the Cowboys.

Sophomore rightfielder Kayla Wenner singled and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by sophomore catcher Taylor LeMay.

With sophomore leftfielder Sydney Fabian at bat, Wenner took off for third. Wenner came around and scored on a throwing error by Oklahoma State’s catcher on the same play.

The Gophers will now return home and prepare for the Sportco Kick-Off Classic next weekend in Las Vegas.

“I definitely think [this weekend] is going to set the momentum for the rest of the season,” Moulton said. “We’re all really fired up, and we’re ready to get back to work this week.”