March 27, 2014
|| No. 15 Minnesota vs. Illinois
||Friday, March 28 • 3 p.m. CT
Saturday, March 29 • 11 a.m. CT (DH)
||South Field, Universtiy of St. Thomas • St. Paul, Minn.
||Minnesota 9, Illinois 3 (April 14, 2013)
|Gopher Game Day Live
||Friday | Saturday (Game 1) | Saturday (Game 2)
The 15th-ranked Minnesota softball team will play its first home series of the season this weekend against Big Ten opponent Illinois. Originally scheduled as a Friday-Saturday-Sunday series at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium, the series will now feature one game Friday at 3 p.m. and a doubleheader Saturday beginning at 11 a.m. at South Field on the campus of the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul.
Minnesota is in the midst of its best season in program history, off to a 24-4 start with a 2-1 ledger in the Big Ten. The Gophers are playing at home for the first time all season on the heels of an eight-game, 11-day Spring Break road trip on which the team went 7-1. The Gophers went 4-0 at the Chanticleer Showdown in Conway, S.C. before winning a Wednesday road contest against South Carolina and taking two of three games in their first league series at then-No. 15/17 Nebraska.
After getting off to its best start in school history at 8-0, Illinois comes into the weekend with a 16-10 overall record and a 2-1 mark in Big Ten play. The Fighting Illini opened conference action last weekend with a tight series against Iowa in which they dropped two of three games that were decided by three runs or fewer. Illinois then traveled to 16th-ranked Missouri for a Wednesday, where it split a double header and earned its first win in five attempts over a ranked opponent.
Alex Booker paces the Fighting Illini at the plate with a .418 average and 21 RBI. Ruby Rivera (.342) and Allie Bauch (.340) are also hitting over .300. Brandi Needham leads the way in the circle with an 11-4 record, 1.57 ERA, and 61 strikeouts in 102.1 innings pitched.
Against the Fighting Illini
Illinois has an 18-9 edge in the all-time series with Minnesota. Last season, the series between the school was moved from Minneapolis to Champaign, Ill. and the Gophers picked up a three-game sweep with win by 5-1, 2-0, and 9-3 scores.
Home Sweet Home
With 24 wins in 28 games outside the state of Minnesota, the Gophers will return to the Twin Cities for games for the first time all season. Minnesota, which had the most road wins in program history last season with 17, played just six games at home—all at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium, its home facility. The Gophers went 5-1 in home games last season, taking two out of three games against Wisconsin April 6-7 before sweeping Indiana May 4-5.
In the Rankings
The Gophers are ranked in the top-25 in the USA Today/NFCA Division I Top 25 Poll for the first time since 2003. Minnesota is No. 15 both in the USA Today/NFCA Poll and the ESPN.com/USA Softball Collegiate Top 25 Poll. The ranking is Minnesota’s highest in the NFCA Poll since the week of April 16, 1997 when it was ranked No. 14. The Gophers have played four ranked teams this year, downing then-No. 17/19 LSU and then-No. 3 Arizona State (both on the road) and falling to top-ranked Florida before winning two of three games at then-No. 15/17 Nebraska.
Moulton Mowing Them Down
Sara Moulton has led the Gophers this season and her efforts have shown in the NCAA national statistical rankings. The senior hurler is tied for the national lead in shutouts with nine and leads the Big Ten and is tied for sixth in the country with 156 strikeouts. Her 16 wins lead the conference and are tied her for sixth in the nation, two off the national lead. She has won three Big Ten Pitcher of the Week Awards.
Fellow pitchers Nikki Anderson and Sara Groenewegen are also having stellar seasons. Groenewegen is second in the country in strikeouts per seven innings with 11.8. She has fanned 75 batters in 44.1 innings. Anderson, who has thrown 28.2 innings, has the NCAA’s 12th-best ERA with a 0.98 mark.
On the Offensive
Junior Kaitlyn Richardson has been Minnesota’s top hitter this season, hitting for a .434 average and a team-best 29 RBI. Her on-base percentage of .564 ranks her 13th in NCAA Division I and her 23 walks put her at 23rd. She has hit five home runs and nine doubles to aid in a .750 slugging percentage. Tyler Walker also enters the weekend with an average over .400 at .427. Walker leads the team with 28 runs and nine stolen bases.
Next weekend, the Gophers are scheduled to host Border Battle rival Wisconsin in a rematch of last year’s Big Ten championship game in a Friday-Saturday-Sunday series. The teams split last year’s season series, 2-2.