Moulton, Groenewegen lead in pitcher’s circle

Minnesota’s one-two punch has not given up an earned run in six games.

Jared Christensen

This year’s Gophers softball team has made scoring runs look fairly easy. Still, Minnesota hasn’t needed to score all that much because the team boasts two of the Big Ten’s best pitchers.

That dynamic duo consists of first-team All-Big Ten pitcher Sara Moulton and freshman Sara Groenewegen. They will again lead No. 14 Minnesota this weekend as the Gophers look to stay hot when they take on Northwestern in a three-game series at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium.

Minnesota is fresh off an impressive pair of wins at Iowa Tuesday night, a doubleheader in which the pitching staff shut out the Hawkeyes twice.

It was the Gophers’ 17th and 18th shutouts of the season. They also extended their streak to six consecutive games without allowing an earned run.

Minnesota’s one-two punch in the circle has proven to be nearly unhittable since Big Ten play started, and the two have combined for four Big Ten Pitcher of the Week awards.

Groenewegen, who won her first of those awards after a two-hit, nine-strikeout performance against Wisconsin on Sunday, said she was humbled by the award. Still, she kept her focus on the team as a whole.

“It’s an honor to be recognized by the Big Ten,” she said, “but the most important thing right now is that we are continuing to win games.”

And winning games has been common for this team.

The Gophers clinched their fourth 30-win season in as many years under head coach Jessica Allister with two wins Tuesday night.

Allister said the pitching staff has been instrumental in this year’s success.

“They have done a tremendous job,” she said. “We are going to lose a lot of innings when [Moulton] leaves next year, but we’re excited about what we’re seeing from Sara so far.”

Moulton, a senior, will move on to play professional softball next year after being drafted fifth overall by the Chicago Bandits in the 2014 National Pro Fastpitch draft last week.

That just added to a long list of individual accolades for Moulton, who holds program records in complete games, wins and shutouts and is just one strikeout shy of tying pitching coach Piper Ritter’s school record of 1,222.

Moulton downplayed the importance of individual accolades like her counterpart Groenewegen, stressing that this year is all about winning a Big Ten title.

“We want to win a Big Ten title,” she said, “and that’s been the No. 1 goal since the beginning.”

This weekend will be an important test against a strong Northwestern team, which is ranked No. 23 in the nation and holds the third-best overall record in the Big Ten.

“They’ve beat us a few times the last couple years, and they are a tough team again this year,” she said of the Wildcats. “We’re excited to play them on our home field, and we plan to beat them three times.”