Gophers softball team starts year 5-0 in Austin

Minnesota traveled to Texas for its first tournament.

Gophers junior Sara Groenewegen throws a pitch at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium on April 30, 2015.

Image by Niti Gupta

Gophers junior Sara Groenewegen throws a pitch at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium on April 30, 2015.

by Kyle Steinberg

Winning the first five games is never a bad start to a season — especially when all those games were on the road.

The No. 16 Gophers softball team (5-0) took its first steps towards another Big Ten tournament title last weekend in Austin, Texas, where it came away with five straight victories.

“It was a great start,” said Minnesota head coach Jessica Allister. “I thought we competed hard. I was proud of [the team].”

The impact of freshmen was certainly felt all weekend, starting from the very first game against Maryland.

After being locked in a tight battle all game, the two teams headed to the bottom of the seventh deadlocked at two runs each, with the Gophers hitting last.

After sophomore Maddie Houlihan singled and then stole second, freshman second baseman MaKenna Partain stepped up to the plate with two outs.

A single to right field gave the Gophers a season-opening win and Partain a memorable start to her career.

“I love being in those kind of situations — the pressure situations,” Partain said. “It was a cool way to start off my freshman year.”

Minnesota would be back on the field later Friday night against tournament host Texas. The Gophers used an early 3-0 lead to distance themselves and stood tall each time the Longhorns tried to cut the deficit.

“We did a really good job of answering back offensively this weekend,” Allister said. “I thought we got offensive production up and down the lineup.”

Senior pitcher Sara Groenewegen, who won 31 games last year, pitched a complete game and gave up just four hits in the Gophers’ 5-2 victory.

Minnesota continued tournament play on Saturday with a 5-1 win over Colorado State, with freshman Amber Fiser picking up the second win of her young career.

For the second consecutive night, Texas loomed on the back end of a doubleheader for the Gophers.

After falling behind early, Minnesota exploded offensively in the third inning, getting a boost from a Sydney Dwyer three-run double to take a 5-1 lead.

Texas tied the score in the bottom of the inning, but the Gophers refused to back down.

After a Kendyl Lindaman solo homerun gave Minnesota the lead, the Gophers dominated the seventh inning at the plate and used another multiple-RBI double from Dwyer on their way to a five-run inning.

“Just swing at strikes,” Dwyer said of her approach at the plate. “We talk about staying on time a lot…swinging at strikes made it a lot easier.”

Groenewegen notched her second win of the weekend in the pitcher’s circle for the Gophers.

Minnesota concluded the tournament with a five-inning shellacking of Maryland to move its record to 5-0.

“It’s a long season ahead,” Allister said. “Obviously it’s a good starting point, and it’s something that we’re happy about.”