Softball begins conference play on new, four-game winning streak

The Gophers saw their first losses of the season over break, but still went 7-2.

Junior infielder Sydney Dwyer swings at a pitch at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium on Friday, Apr. 23, 2015.

Niti Gupta

Junior infielder Sydney Dwyer swings at a pitch at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium on Friday, Apr. 23, 2015.

Kyle Steinberg

Although its perfect record is no longer, the Gophers softball team isn’t worried.

No. 8 Minnesota (25-2) suffered its first losses of the season over spring break and fell twice to No. 6 Washington in Seattle — part of the Gophers’ 3-2 start to break in the Husky Classic.

“I don’t think anything’s really changed,” said head coach Jessica Allister. “We feel good about the [non-conference record] we’ve put together … You’re striving to win every game, but I don’t think we had any illusions that we were going to go the entire season and not lose a single game.”

The Huskies scored a combined 12 runs over the two games, including nine in a five-inning, run-rule victory on March 12.

Washington eliminated Minnesota in last year’s NCAA tournament, and the Gophers know they could face a similar opponent in this year’s postseason.

“I think we did a lot of things on our part that helped [Washington] win,” said infielder MaKenna Partain. “Just playing our game is the key to winning games for us.”

The break schedule wasn’t all that bad for the Gophers, however, and Partain was a key cog in a slew of high-powered offensive performances.

The freshman holds the team lead in hitting with a .457 batting average and had five hits and five runs in Minnesota’s three victories in Seattle.

“[MaKenna] has the ability to beat you with power and speed,” Allister said. “She’s been off to a great start.”

Following the Husky Classic, the Gophers continued their West Coast tour by cruising to a 6-0 shutout-victory over Oregon State to preface another matchup with a ranked team in No. 23 California.

Senior pitcher Sara Groenewegen — who has been dominant all season for the Gophers — hit a major career milestone in the second inning when she struck out her 1,000th batter as a member of the Gophers.

Groenewegen is just the third Minnesota pitcher to accomplish the feat — current Gophers pitching coach Piper Ritter and 2014 graduate Sara Moulton are the other two.

“Obviously it’s a really cool accomplishment, but that’s not what we’re in it for — we’re in it to be in Oklahoma [for the College World Series],” Groenewegen said.

While Groenewegen shut out the Golden Bears over six innings, her teammates made sure she didn’t have to worry too much thanks to an offensive explosion in the third that resulted in seven Gophers runs.

After adding three runs in the top of the seventh, Tori Finucane and the Gophers shut California down in the bottom of the inning to seal a 10-0 victory over a top-25 opponent.

“We talk about pitching, hitting and defense … against Cal, I thought we had all three,” said Allister. “That was a big win for us.”

The Gophers concluded the spring break schedule with a doubleheader against Pacific that saw a combined score of 22-1, and they start Big Ten play with a trip to Nebraska slated for next weekend.

“All of the upperclassmen talk about how fun [the Big Ten is],” Partain said. “I’ve been looking forward to the Big Ten [schedule] since the beginning of the year.”