Pitching continuity built through losses

All four Gophers pitchers who saw serious time this year will be back next year.

Emily Wickstrom

This season has in no way turned out how Minnesota’s softball team would like.

The Gophers completed their Big Ten season Sunday with a 1-17 conference record and no chance of a postseason.

But Minnesota has high hopes for next year, and a lot of it has to do with pitching.

All four members of the Gophers pitching staff will return in 2007 and with an added year of Big Ten experience.

“That’s definitely a plus,” junior infielder Katie Meyer said. “Especially in the Big Ten because you know the batters you’re facing.

“(Experienced pitchers) know where to put the pitch, or they know how to throw their curveball a little different for certain batters.”

Last season Minnesota relied almost entirely on senior Lyn Peyer for its pitching duties. Peyer appeared in 40 of 52 games, pitching more than 219 innings with a 16-18 record, 153 strikeouts and a 2.68 ERA.

The Gophers began 2006 with no pitchers who had an extensive amount of experience.

Redshirt freshman Katie Dalen – who pitched 11 games last year before injuring her groin – and true freshman Briana Hassett were called on to take over the starting pitching duties, with juniors Rene Konderik and Mandy Valadez in bullpen roles.

“All four of us have talent, just not experience,” Dalen said. “We got some this year.”

Although Dalen and Hassett have gone through rough stretches, their performances have been consistent enough to warrant high expectations for the next three seasons.

“It’s hard to go through the season with just one pitcher,” Meyer said. “But having two pitchers, it’s a 1-2 punch Ö They’ve done a great job of coming out and improving through the whole year and learning from their mistakes.”

Hassett, with 30 appearances, has a team-high 117 strikeouts and a 2.75 ERA, while Dalen has a 3.55 ERA and 80 strikeouts in 22 appearances.

The highlight of Dalen’s season was probably April 23, when she dueled Northwestern star pitcher Eileen Canney in a marathon 18-inning game.

Dalen pitched all 18 innings, striking out 11 batters and allowing four runs.

“It’s not usual for any team to expect two freshmen to start,” Dalen said.

Konderik, after starting four games in 2005, has settled into a relief role with a 3.06 ERA in 24 appearances.

Valadez has the lowest ERA on the team (2.55), but hasn’t pitched in a game since April 16. She has since been asked to take over at third base for the injured Lisa Parks, but should return to primarily pitching duties next season.

If this year was a rebuilding year for the pitchers, Dalen said the whole staff will be ready to face the higher expectations that will come with a new season.

“Next year should be much better,” Dalen said. “We all know what we need to do over the summer.

“There’s been pressure, but it’s not overwhelming. You put pressure on yourselves. We try to keep them in games, and that’s all they expect.”