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Gophers softball record split nearly even halfway into season

Minnesota starts Big Ten play coming off a 1-4 weekend in South Carolina.
Image by Gopher Athletics (courtesy)
Jess Oakland and Morgan DeBord are leading the offense, both hitting over .390 at the plate.

The Gophers dropped four of five at the Garnet and Black Invitational in Columbia, South Carolina, with their lone win coming against North Carolina State.

Minnesota sits at 14-13, having played all 27 games either on the road or at a neutral site.

On the season, the Gophers are 2-7 against ranked teams, with their last ranked win coming on March 7 against No. 10 Clemson.

Sophomore shortstop Jess Oakland moved from her usual place in the lineup behind junior third baseman Kayla Chavez in the two-hole to hit leadoff in three of the five games. Oakland returned to the two-hole behind graduate center fielder Morgan DeBord in the other two games.

Gophers head coach Piper Ritter said the decision to move Oakland into the leadoff role was to get her more opportunities at the plate.

“If they’re going to pitch around her, might as well put her in early so we get to [her in] the lineup quicker,” Ritter said.

Oakland is tied with graduate second baseman Sydney Strelow for the team lead with 17 walks. The Gophers shortstop has only struck out eight times in 27 games played while leading the team with eight homers, 29 RBIs and a 1.239 OPS.

Ritter also experimented with DeBord at leadoff to start the Garnet and Black Invitational but reverted to placing her at the bottom of the order in the final three games.

DeBord is hitting .394 while providing an elite glove in the outfield. The center fielder has 40 put-outs and one outfield assist with no errors throughout the spring season.

DeBord said knowing that her coach has confidence in her defensive abilities helps fuel the highlight-reel catches she makes in the outfield.

The Loyola-Marymount transfer hit nine home runs in 2023 but has taken a different offensive role with Minnesota, focusing on her short game by observing the defense’s positioning and analyzing her teammates.

“I have a lot of tools that work for me, and I have that speed, too,” DeBord said. “One thing that helps me a lot in games is that I’m able to learn from other people’s at-bats.”

Junior Taylor Krapf finally found her power in South Carolina. After going without a home run for 24 games of the season, the Gophers catcher launched two homers against North Carolina State.

Krapf tied with Oakland for a team-high 14 home runs in 2023.

Oakland and Strelow occupied the middle infield together for the last two seasons and according to Oakland, the pair’s relationship continues to improve.

“It gets better every single day,” Oakland said. “We work on our feeds and communication. We’re really good up the middle and that connection is helpful during games.”

Strelow said their relationship is one of her favorites on and off the field and that Oakland uses her as a resource in aiding her development.

Heading into Big Ten play

Minnesota opens the Big Ten portion of the regular season on March 22 in College Park to take on the Maryland Terrapins.

The Gophers faced two different Big Ten opponents while in South Carolina, losing to Michigan State and Northwestern.

Oakland said the Big Ten is a whole different ball game and added that the team played well against its conference opponents but was unable to get the results it hoped for.

Strelow said the Big Ten season could not have come at a better time for the Gophers.

“I think we still have some more growing to do within the Big Ten season, but it’s the perfect time to clean slate it and make sure we’re doing the right things,” Strelow said.

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