Gophers take two of three in Big Ten set with Northwestern

On Friday, Sara Moulton broke the school record for career strikeouts.

Jared Christensen

No. 14 Minnesota went 2-1 against Northwestern over the weekend, losing 13-9 on Friday before bouncing back with 13-5 and 3-1 victories Saturday and Sunday.

The Gophers, plagued by offensive woes a week ago, exploded on offense against the Wildcats, scoring 25 runs in the three-game set. Minnesota junior Hannah Granger led the charge and went 6-for-9 with six RBIs over the course of the three games.

Minnesota’s usually stout pitching staff gave up 18 runs in the first two games, but freshman pitcher Sara Groenewegen bounced back with a stellar nine-strikeout performance in the third game Sunday.

Granger said her big weekend was the result of extra preparation on the offensive end at practice throughout the week.

“It was all about preparation this week,” she said. “Then everybody was aggressive in the box, and I felt like I was just seeing the ball really well. It all came together for us.”

Groenewegen continued her excellent freshman campaign, which has her ranked second nationally in strikeouts per innings pitched. She also ranks second on the Gophers with eight home runs.

She said the wins this weekend had added value because Northwestern is so competitive in the Big Ten.

“It means a lot,” she said. “Northwestern is a very good team, and this is huge for the Big Ten standings.”

Groenewegen owns just one of the dominant arms in pitching staff, though. Minnesota senior Sara Moulton, described by head coach Jessica Allister as the team’s ace, owns the other.

In the first game of the series, Moulton struck out seven Wildcats and broke the Gophers’ record for career strikeouts. The first-team All-Big Ten honoree now holds program records for career strikeouts, wins, complete games and shutouts.

She gave up 12 earned runs in that contest — the most she’s given up in a single game all season — and picked up her fifth loss of the year.

In a stark contrast from the first two games, Sunday’s series finale started slowly for the offenses.

Neither team recorded a hit until the bottom of the third, when junior infielder Tyler Walker blasted her eighth home run of the year with a two-run shot that sailed over the scoreboard and big screen on top of the right-field wall. Walker laughed about the hit and said it’s important to remember there’s still room for improvement.

“When I got back to the dugout, [pitching coach Piper] Ritter said, ‘You were out in front on that one,” Walker said with a laugh. “I think the point is we all have some things to work on still.”

While it may be important to continue working hard, Allister said that she was relieved the team came out and scored so much after having its bats quieted by Wisconsin last week.

“We know hitting is a streaky thing,” she said. “That’s just the nature of the game of softball. It was nice to come out and put some runs on the board this weekend.”

Next week, the Gophers will have the opportunity to continue the momentum when they travel to Ann Arbor, Mich., for a three-game series against the fourth-ranked Wolverines. Michigan owns the best record in the Big Ten.