March 23, 2012
The University of Minnesota softball team opens up Big Ten play this weekend as they travel to Champaign, Ill. for a three-game scuffle with Illinois. The Golden Gophers (18-7) will first take have a doubleheader with the Fighting Illini on Saturday beginning at noon. The two will turn around and pay Sunday at noon to close out the series.
Minnesota is coming off a light weekend in Boise, Idaho, where they saw three games get rained out. The Golden Gophers were able to get in a game against Boise State, which they lost 2-1 in extra innings. The Maroon and Gold’s final game was against Idaho State, which they won 10-2 in five innings.
The Fighting Illini enters this weekend’s three-game series with a 13-10 record while winning six of its last seven games. In the batter’s box, senior Meredith Hackett hoists the Illinois offense with a .368 batting average, four home runs and 15 RBI. Junior pitcher Pepper Gay is the top hurler for the Illini as she is 8-3 on the season with a 1.75 ERA.
Last Time Against the Illini
The two foes met last year in the final weekend of Big Ten play and split at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium. The Fighting Illini grabbed the first victory of the series in a nine-inning game, 2-0. The Golden Gophers came back strong in the second day as Alex Davis singled in Dannie Skrove for the game-winning run. Minnesota capped off the season with a 3-2 win over Illinois.
Illinois holds the all-time series record over Minnesota 5-16. The Maroon and Gold are 2-8 all-time in Champaign, Ill.
Opening Big Ten Play
The Gophers are 17-12 all-time in the opening game of Big Ten play. They have not lost a Big Ten opener since 2007 when they fell to Ohio State 4-2. Minnesota is 10-9-10 all-time in an Big Ten opening series.
Minnesota has belted 28 home runs this season, which is the most in the Big Ten Conference. The 28 four-baggers are tied for third most in school history for a single season (2007). The most home runs in a single season for Minnesota is 43, set in 1999.
The Gophers has committed the fewest errors in the Big Ten this year at 17, which gives them the conference’s top fielding percentage at .976. Minnesota has also been stingy with allowing runs as they have only surrendered 41 on the season, which is the fewest for a Gopher squad in the first 25 games of the season since 2002 (38).
Gophers Have Mercy
The Maroon and Gold utilized the eight-run mercy rule eight times this season. The team record is 10, which was set back in 1999.
Queen of the Circle
Sophomore Sara Moulton has been a force this season by being nearly unhittable. She not only leads the Big Ten in all major pitching categories but also ranks amongst the top pitchers in the country. Moulton has 14 wins (4th in the nation) on the season with an ERA of 0.65 (7th in the nation). She has allowed only 17 runs, 11 of which are earned, and fanned 173 batters (2nd in the nation). The Eagan, Minn. native has also hurled two no-hitters this season, which were the 15th and 16th no-hitters in school history.
Moulton Reaches a Milestone
Moulton tallied her 500th career strikeout in the first inning of the Gophers’ 10-2 victory over Idaho State this past weekend. She heads into the weekend with 503 career strikeouts, which ranks fifth all-time in Minnesota history.
Meyer Playing Small Ball
Freshman Erica Meyer has recorded 18 hits this season with seven of them being bunt singles. She has also laid down a conference-best seven sacrifice bunts.
Allister Approaches 50 Wins
Second-year head coach Jessica Allister currently sits a 49 career wins heading into the opening weekend of conference play. In her two seasons as a Division I head coach, she has a record of 49-31.
Heading into this weekend, the Gophers have played 25 road games to begin the season, which is the most in the Big Ten Conference. Minnesota opens its home slate March 31 against Big Ten newcomer Nebraska.
Gophers By the Numbers
503 – Career strikeouts for Sara Moulton
102 – Times Minnesota has been walked, which leads the Big Ten
49 – Wins Allister has in her career
25 – Runs scored by Tyler Walker, which leads the Big Ten
17 – Errors the Gophers have had, which is the fewest in the Big Ten
6 – Team leading home runs for Walker, Katie Richardson and Kari Dorle
2 – No-hitters have been thrown by Moulton, both this season
Trading Boots for Spikes
The Gophers have added two unique players to the roster this season in seniors Alex Pafko and Josie Solie, who both were on the Golden Gopher soccer team this past fall. Pafko transferred to Minnesota from St. Cloud State this past summer while Solie has been a standout on the pitch the past four seasons and was named a second team All-Big Ten defender. This softball season, Solie has stolen four bases and scored eight times while Pafko has one stolen base and scored four times.
For the first time since 1994, the Gophers opened the season with six freshmen in the starting lineup. Minnesota is one of four teams in the nation to start at least six freshmen this season. The other schools are IUPU-Indianapolis, IP-Fort Wayne, USS Upstate and Florida.