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Gophers softball to fill more than Pea(se)-sized gap with younger rotation

Autumn Pease’s departure left coach Piper Ritter in the position to utilize several freshmen in the bullpen to start the season.
Image by Gophers Athletics (courtesy)
Jacie Hambrick takes the pitching circle against Michigan on May 6, 2023.

After the departure of pitcher Autumn Pease, the Gophers’ rotation is left with the challenge of replacing her over 200 innings pitched throughout the 2024 season.

Minnesota will look to veteran arms like Jacie Hambrick and Bri Enter to carry the bulk of the load while integrating a young, talented arm in Jessa Snippes.

Last year, Pease won Big Ten Pitcher of the Year after posting a 27-7 record with a 1.46 ERA. She finished the season fifth in the nation in strikeouts with 273 while allowing 29 walks.

Gophers head coach Piper Ritter said during a press conference on Feb. 2 that the team would take a staff approach for the beginning part of the season.

“I believe we’ll start off with a staff approach for sure,” Ritter said. “We have three freshmen and they’re going to need innings … Right now, we’ll be a little bit more of a staff, but we do have some rising stars in that freshman class.”

Snippes, the headliner of this year’s freshmen class, was named 2023 Minnesota Ms. Softball and StarTribune’s Metro Player of the Year.

The Gophers added Macy Richardson and Cameron Grayson, two other freshmen arms, for the 2024 season. Sydney Schwartz is another name to monitor after she finished her freshman year strong, according to Ritter.

Hambrick enters the new year with more experience in Minnesota than any other Gophers pitcher, with 92 innings pitched in 2023.

Hambrick said she understood the role Pease had last year and is up for the challenge.

“I have taken extra time to work on things I knew I needed to be better at and I learned that from Autumn,” Hambrick said.

Hambrick added that the lessons she learned from Pease last season are building blocks she hopes to utilize in 2024.

Enter is also looking to step into a larger role in both leadership and innings. After spending three years at Florida State, Enter saw her largest volume in college at Minnesota, tossing 37.2 innings, mainly in relief.

Enter said mixing pitches is an important part of her game and her arsenal allows her to be versatile when approaching hitters.

“I’m more of a spin and location type of pitcher, so I have my curve, rise and drop,” Enter said. “I can hit every corner, so it’s just keeping the batter off-balance with different speeds. I have a mix of three speeds, so that kind of helps my toolbox.”

With various new faces on the pitching staff, one constant remains in junior catcher Taylor Krapf. The 2023 All-Big Ten First Team selection returns to build on her impressive season.

Krapf caught all 57 games last season but will have more help this year with the addition of Penn State transfer Cassie Lindmark.

“I love [Krapf’s] presence behind the plate when I’m out there pitching with her,” Hambrick said. “She makes me feel like it’s our world and everybody else is just living in it.”

Minnesota heads to San Diego, California for the San Diego State Season Kickoff, where the Gophers will play five games in three days. Their first game will be on Friday against UC Santa Barbara at 5 p.m.

Of their five games over the weekend, the Gophers are scheduled to play three ranked teams, including Stanford, led by former Gophers head coach Jessica Allister.

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