Moulton matures as Gophers’ ace

Sara Moulton’s statistics have improved in her three years with the Gophers, but now she’s more focused on the team’s success.

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 Drew Claussen

The Gophers’ Sara Moulton is statistically one of the best pitchers in the Big Ten.

The junior has the lowest ERA among pitchers with more than 100 innings pitched and is among the top in the conference for strikeouts, innings pitched, games started and wins.

That’s not news to her teammates or opponents, but it is to Moulton, who said she’s trying not to look at her stats this season.

“It kind of puts more pressure on,” Moulton said. “The only thing we’re really concerned about are wins.”

As Moulton goes, so do the Gophers. Minnesota has 23 wins this season, and Moulton was the winning pitcher in 20 of them.

Moulton has tossed two no-hitters this season, and after her first against Albany on Feb. 24, she deferred credit to senior catcher Kari Dorle — a gesture that fits the Gophers’ unselfish mentality.

Dorle and Moulton were part of a startup softball organization called the Minnesota Sting before college.

“She knows me, and I know her really well,” Moulton said of Dorle. “We work really good together — it’s sad that she’s going to be leaving after this year.”

Dorle and Moulton aren’t the only two Gophers players to have a good relationship. Moulton said that this year’s team has one of the best dynamics she’s ever had.

“Everyone’s super close, and we always have each other’s backs,” Moulton said. “I think that’s why we’re so successful.

“We’re like sisters,” she added. “We’ll get in fights and stuff, but we’re able to put that away when we’re playing.”

Moulton started playing softball at age 6, and three years later she transitioned to pitcher, a position that she has stuck with ever since.

“I have the ball every play,” Moulton said of being a pitcher. “I just like being able to make things happen. I like having control of the game that way.”

Moulton told her parents when she was 10 that she would get a Division I scholarship. She said they laughed about it at the time, but she proved herself during her four-year varsity career at Eagan High School.

“It was always a goal of mine and was something that I worked towards every year,” Moulton said. “And I got better every year.”

Moulton was named the 2009-10 Minnesota Gatorade Player of the Year in high school and was Minnesota’s Miss Softball in 2010. She was also a four-time all-state, all-metro and all-conference award winner. She had 58 shutouts, 13 no-hitters and three perfect games in high school.

A Twin Cities native, Moulton said the University of Minnesota had an advantage when she picked a college. She gave a verbal commitment to the Gophers as a sophomore in high school.

And ever since she stepped foot on campus, she’s been a workhorse in the pitching circle.

“It was always my goal to get innings in, but I was a freshman, and there was a junior ahead of me,” Moulton said. “So I just had to work hard in practice, and then when I was given the opportunity, I basically just had to capitalize on it.”

Moulton tossed 278.2 of the 366.1 innings that Minnesota played her freshman year. She continued to be a workhorse her sophomore year while improving her ERA and strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Moulton said it has gotten progressively harder to be successful because teams have had ample opportunities to watch her and adjust to her pitches.

Gophers head coach Jessica Allister said earlier this season that Moulton is so good that she will be successful if she just trusts her pitching.

Moulton has her team’s performance in mind more than her personal performance this season. Like many of her teammates, her goal is to make the Big Ten tournament and then appear in an NCAA regional.

The Gophers did neither in 2012, but they’re 6-3 in the conference this season and tied with Wisconsin for fourth in the conference.

“We’re starting to believe that we can play at this level,” Moulton said.