With super regional berth, an unprecedented season

A group effort propelled the Gophers further into the NCAA tournament than ever before.

Minnesota infielder Tyler Walker throws to the pitcher during the game against North Dakota State at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium on Saturday. This game, part of the NCAA Regional Tournament, resulted in a 4-1 win by the Gophers.

Lisa Persson

Minnesota infielder Tyler Walker throws to the pitcher during the game against North Dakota State at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium on Saturday. This game, part of the NCAA Regional Tournament, resulted in a 4-1 win by the Gophers.

Joe Perovich

When Minnesota defeated Auburn 8-6 in the win-or-stay-home game of the NCAA regional tournament, it clinched a berth in the super regional for the first time in the program’s history.

Since head coach Jessica Allister was hired four seasons ago, the Gophers have steadily progressed.

Despite playing only six home games last season, the Gophers reached their first NCAA regional since 2003.

This year, with key players returning and a talented recruiting class, the Gophers were poised make a run in the playoffs.

Minnesota’s output wasn’t random — it started well before any of the games were played, junior shortstop Tyler Walker said.

“I could tell something was special when we all came in [this] fall,” Walker said. “You could kind of tell the vibe of the team was going to be different because of how hard [we worked] during the summer.”

The Gophers sprinted to a 14-1 start in 2014, a stretch that included a win over then-No. 17 LSU and five consecutive games without surrendering a run.

Walker and third baseman Kaitlyn Richardson led the Gophers at the plate, but the contributions extended beyond returners.

Freshman Sara Groenewegen, the Big Ten Pitcher and Freshman of the Year, was efficient on the mound and at the plate.

She was second on the team in home runs while posting a 2.23 ERA.

Groenewegen and senior Sara Moulton, the Gophers’ ace, led the Gophers to a Big Ten conference title, which eluded the team last year.

“When I got here, we were kind of rebuilding this program, and our goal the entire time was to win that Big Ten championship,” Richardson said. “I remember winning that game, and it was just the best feeling in the world.”

The Gophers built on that success, winning their regional but eventually falling to top-seeded Oregon in the super regional.

Though the Gophers experienced unprecedented program success, there is still another level for them to reach.

“Once you get a taste of something you want … you see the level you have to play at to get it,” Allister said in her postgame press conference.

Richardson isn’t any less adamant about wanting to be playing at this time next year.

“I think we set the bar extremely high,” she said, “so there’s kind of no looking back from here.”