Freshmen pitching in on Minnesota staff

by Noah Seligman

There is a slight difference in Minnesota’s softball team this year. The Gophers are using four pitchers this season instead of just three, as they have done in the past.

Staff ace Piper Marten is still there, along with junior mainstay Lyn Peyer. But two freshmen hurlers round out the rotation.

Rene Konderik and Mandy Valadez get to study under their elder teammates while adjusting to the college game.

“She and I have had our ups and downs together,” Konderik said. “What I learn, she learns, so we’re basically on the same page.”

The regular starters might overshadow the two new faces, but the relief the duo provides is much appreciated.

“They’ve done a nice job coming in when we need them,” pitching coach Jenn Stokes said. “Their role for this year is giving our two older (pitchers) some rest and, at the same time, learning the game for next year.”

The first thing both pitchers had to learn was a new motion. Stokes said that Konderik used too much motion, and Valadez had to involve her legs more and develop a straighter delivery.

Valadez, a native of Torrance, Calif., said the change in mechanics made them more efficient and enabled them to get their bodies in line.

“It’s good to have another person here who’s going through the same things,” Valadez said of Konderik. “We help each other out and practice on our own.”

But Valadez said the practice can be tough at times, especially when she has to start at 6 or 7 a.m., as they have in recent weeks.

Konderik said she believes her toughest adjustment has more to do with the climate than anything else.

The Peoria, Ariz., native has not enjoyed the chilly Midwest temperatures.

“The only thing that’s hard for me adjusting to is the weather,” Konderik said. “I’ve never played softball in cold weather.”

Konderik has appeared in 12 games and has an ERA of 3.69 in 36 innings of work. She is 3-1 on the season and has recorded four saves. Opponents are hitting .229 against her.

Konderik said she is not an overpowering pitcher. She said she likes to hit her spots and let her defense go to work.

“I rely on the eight players behind me to make the plays,” she said.

Valadez has six appearances on the season and has pitched 18.2 innings. She is 1-0 with an ERA of 1.88. Opponents are hitting .203 against her.

Valadez said she is more in the middle between power and placement, with the ability to throw hard and also hit her spots.

“I love to have my defense play behind me,” Valadez said. “It’s more fun; everybody gets in the game.”

But last weekend, it was tough for anyone not named Piper Marten to toe the rubber for the Gophers.

Marten started, and won, three games. Konderik and Valadez combined for only 6.2 innings of work.

The old baseball cliche says “lineups win divisions, but pitching wins championships.”

Stokes doesn’t buy it.

“It would be the other way around,” she said. “Pitching wins games, and the team wins championships.”

But either way you read it, the Gophers are confident in their pitching staff and the two young understudies’ development. Minnesota expects big things from the duo in the future.

“They’re great people,” Marten said. “They do the right things on and off the field, so success will come to them; it’s just a matter of time.”