May 18, 2012
Even with the 2012 season being crowned a rebuilding year, the University of Minnesota softball team had lofty goals of surging to the top of the Big Ten Conference and qualifying for a NCAA Regional. With having a youthful squad, Minnesota (31-22, 10-14) would have a rollercoaster season and fall short of their expectations, but the Golden Gophers still managed to post their second-straight 30-win season, which hasn't happened since 2003 and 2004.
Season In Review
The Gophers started off the season hot as it went 8-2 in the first 10 games with losses to UNLV and defending National Champion, Arizona State. Of those 10 games, the Maroon and Gold tallied six shutouts. The most prominent note early on in the season was that Minnesota had six freshmen in the starting lineup for the first time since 1994, and it was only 1-of-5 schools in the nation to do so in 2012.
In closing out the rest of the non-conference tournaments, the Gophers hit a few road bumps as they went 11-5 with four of those losses being by one run.
The disappointing end to tournament play carried over to the first Big Ten series of the season against Illinois, as Minnesota snagged only one win in the three-game series.
Minnesota's luck would change in the following weekend as they finally played a game at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium after being on the road for 28-straight contests.
The Gophers welcomed Big Ten newcomer Nebraska to Minneapolis, Minn. and grabbed the opening two games from the 2011 NCAA Regional qualifier. The Huskers would avoid the sweep and escape the Twin Cities with a one-run, eight-inning victory.
Being on a high didn't last long as Minnesota would drop four of its next five games, which includes a frustrating three-game sweep by Wisconsin.
After hitting a low, the rollercoaster continued as the Golden Gophers took seven of the next nine games against three teams that qualified for NCAA Regionals: Northwestern, North Dakota State and Michigan.
The Maroon and Gold battled in Evanston, Ill. with Northwestern as each team scored an eight-run rule victory to open the series. Minnesota capped off the series with an impressive win in extra innings.
In a non-conference midweek series, the Golden Gophers didn't allow NDSU to plate any runs in the two contests as the Maroon and Gold won by a combined score of 9-0.
A few days later, Minnesota welcomed powerhouse Michigan to JSC Stadium, and the Gophers slayed the beast. Minnesota would take the first two games of the series to give the Gophers their first win over the Wolverines since 2002 and solidify the series win for the first time since 1983. Michigan would avoid the sweep the following day as they pulled off a 10-inning triumph.
With the hopes of making Regionals in their grasp, the Gophers went to Penn State with thoughts of taking at least two from the struggling Nittany Lions. But Minnesota's surprise, PSU had a never-say-die attitude as they pulled off three-comeback victories to sweep the Maroon and Gold.
The Gophers entered their final two series' weekends with a slim chance of making it to Regionals, but Minnesota battled in their final weeks of play and played spoiler instead.
The Maroon and Gold would hinder Purdue's shot at a Big Ten title as the Gophers took 2-of-3 from the Boilermakers. In the final weekend, Minnesota would only take one game from Iowa, but the two losses suffered to the Hawkeyes were both by one run.
Gophers Against the Field
Minnesota posted a combined record of 9-5 against teams that qualified for the NCAA Regional field. In those 14 games, the Gophers recorded five shutouts, hit .260 as a team and outscored its opponents 63-41.
Racing to 20
It took the Gophers 29 games to reach the 20-win mark, which is the fastest for Minnesota since 2002 when the team did so in 27 contests.
This year's club hit a total of 53 home runs, which is the most in school history. The previous record was set in 1999 with 43. Along with the home run record, the Gophers also tabbed the highest slugging percentage in Minnesota history (.435).
Walking in Minneapolis
Minnesota was granted a school record 213 walks this season. Two catalysts in breaking this record are Kari Dorle and Kaitlyn Richardson. Both cracked the Top 5 in bases on balls with Dorle tied for second with 36 and Richardson sitting fifth with 32.
The Golden Gophers had one of the best offensive seasons in Minnesota history as they reached a number of milestones that haven't happened for years. First off, the Maroon and Gold combined to post a .268 batting average and score 276 runs, which are the highest marks since 1999. The team's ability to hit the ball and draw free passes through walks and hit by pitches allowed the Gophers to tie for the school's highest on-base percentage in schools history of .380, which was also reached in 1983.
Queen of the Circle
Sophomore pitcher Sara Moulton showcased the league's lowest earned run average on the season at 1.52 while also striking out 302 batters, which ranked second in the conference. The Eagan, Minn. native posted a 25-14 record in the circle and tossed 30 complete games with seven shutouts. The Gophers' ace also hurled two no-hitters this season and notched 13 games with double-digit strikeouts.
Freshman shortstop Tyler Walker had a great first season with the Gophers as she recorded a .380 batting average, which is the highest for a freshman in Minnesota history and ranked fourth in the league this season. The powerful leadoff batter also ranked second in runs scored (46), slugging percentage (.614) and home runs (nine). In conference games, the San Jose, Calif. native led all shortstops in batting average, hits and extra-base hits.
Gophers Have Mercy
The Gophers notched nine eight-run rule triumphs this season, which is second all-time only to the 10 accrued in 1999.
Moulton and Walker Named All-Big Ten
The Big Ten Conference announced Moulton and Walker were each named Third Team, All-Big Ten. The selection was Moulton's second of her career after being crowned Freshman of the Year in 2011 and being a Second Team selection. It is Walker's first Big Ten accolade.
Looking Towards 2013
The Golden Gophers return all but one of their regular starters with the departure of senior outfielder Dannie Skrove, who was third on the team in batting average. Minnesota also loses senior pitcher Alissa Koch, who pitched over 350 innings in the past four years for the Maroon and Gold. The roster will also see the subtraction of pinch running specialists Alex Pafko and Josie Solie. Despite losing four seniors, the youthful squad returns a plethora of talent while also adding six gifted newcomers next fall.
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