LeMay, Groenewegen pace squad

The Gophers swept Illinois to improve their record to 27-4 on the season.

Minnesota freshman Sara Groenewegen pitches to Illinois, Saturday afternoon in St. Paul.

Stephen Offerman

Minnesota freshman Sara Groenewegen pitches to Illinois, Saturday afternoon in St. Paul.

by Jared Christensen

No. 15 Minnesota swept Illinois over the weekend, improving its overall record to an unprecedented 27-4. The Gophers also moved to 5-1 in Big Ten play with the trio of wins.

Minnesota’s bats stayed hot all weekend, and the team posted 23 runs in the three-game series.

Gophers sophomore catcher Taylor LeMay powered the team at the plate, launching two home runs to move her season total to a team-high eight blasts.

Still, she said she’s more excited about the team’s hot start.

“It was a great series,” she said. “It’s awesome to be 5-1 in Big Ten play.”

While the offense paced the team, the Gophers’ pitchers weren’t to be outdone. That group tossed 18 shutout innings and struck out 27 batters in the series.

All-Big Ten pitcher senior Sara Moulton’s two wins in the series improved her record to 18-3. And her 15-strikeout weekend moved her career tally to 1,111 — just 11 shy of the program record.

Minnesota freshman Sara Groenewegen also picked up a win for the Gophers, striking out 10 batters en route to a complete-game shutout and her seventh win of the year. She is now 7-0 in the pitcher’s circle, and her numbers in the batter’s box have been equally impressive.

Groenewegen went 3-for-7 at the plate this weekend, smacking a home run in each game to move her season total to seven, just one behind LeMay for the team lead.

Minnesota junior infielder Kaitlyn Richardson said Groenewegen’s and LeMay’s contributions in their first season have been immeasurable.

“They came in and weren’t timid, weren’t scared,” she said. “They’ve just done their job, and that’s what it’s going to take for us to be a World Series team.”

So far, the formula is working.

Minnesota’s 27-4 overall record leads the Big Ten, and its five conference wins are second only to Michigan.

Gophers head coach Jessica Allister said the great start is a step toward accomplishing the team’s ultimate goal.

“The girls are very focused on the main goal, which is winning a Big Ten championship,” she said. “[They are] doing a great job so far, and everybody’s very excited about it.”

This was the Gophers’ first home series of the year after they spent the first six weeks of the season on the road.

Still, it wasn’t exactly a home game.

The Gophers moved the series to the University of St. Thomas because of poor conditions at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium’s natural-grass field.

Minnesota is scheduled for another home series — weather permitting — next weekend against Wisconsin.

LeMay said she’s excited for the opportunity to take on a rival, something she hasn’t had the opportunity to do since transferring to Minnesota a year ago.

“I haven’t been around to have the feel for a really big rivalry game,” LeMay said. “So I’m super excited to be able to play in that environment next weekend.

“I know we’re all pumped for that series.”