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2021 Gopher Softball Preview

By dp, 02/22/21, 9:30AM CST

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The 2021 season opens this Friday in Leesburg, Florida at Sleepy Hollow Sports Complex.

The Schedule

The Gopher Softball team will play in a Big 10 bubble this season and will only face Big 10 teams until Regionals. 

On a recent ACC broadcast Michele Smith suggested this might make it difficult for the NCAA Tournament Committee to place Big 10 teams based on the eye test. 

Without connecting data points the ratings system preferred by the NCAA (RPI) will not be able to affectively contrast Big 10 teams against the rest of the country.

Ultimately if Minnesota posts a gaudy win/loss record ratings will not matter and they will host regionals and super regionals.

In 2020 the Gophers were 15-9-1 before the season was cut short due to the pandemic while the team was in Hawaii.

Sleepy Hollow Sports Complex in Leesburg, Florida

Here is the schedule:

  • February 26 double header vs. Maryland at Leesburg, Florida.
  • February 27 double header vs. Ohio State at Leesburg, Florida.
  • February 28 double header vs. Indiana at Leesburg, Florida.
  • March 11-12 vs. Rutgers at Leesburg, Florida.
  • March 13-14 vs. Michigan State at Leesburg Florida.
  • March 26-28 at Illinois.
  • April 2-4 vs. Purdue.
  • April 9-11 at Northwestern.
  • April 16-18 vs. Nebraska.
  • April 23-25 vs. Iowa.
  • April 30-May 2 at Wisconsin.
  • May 7-9 vs. Michigan.
  • May 14-16 at Penn State.

Coaching

Piper Ritter was named head coach of Gopher Softball after the departure of Jamie Trachsel to Ole Miss and the SEC.

Ritter is no stranger to Gopher Softball as she has been on staff for this her 14th year. 

She clearly is able to develop solid pitching with names such as Hassett, Moulton, Groenewegen and Fiser under her tutelage. 

From the sounds of it the alumni crowd is excited about the hire. It's hard to argue with the value of Ritter to the pitching staff. It will now be up to her to inspire the rest of the team.

Joining Ritter on staff will be Carly Winn as the Associate Head Coach and Katie Richardson as an assistant.

Winn spent the last five seasons at Arizona State as the recruiting coordinator, camp director, and alumni outreach as well as hitting slapping and baserunning. 

Richardson is no stranger to the Gopher Softball program. She was a two-time All-American in 2013 and 2014. Richardson also spent some time recently at Arizona State. She also played in the National Pro Fastpitch league for two seasons and earned All-NPF honors in 2015.

The Gophers might finally have the coaching staff that wants to be here long term with this group.

PITCHING

It all starts with returning Senior Amber Fiser from Van Horne, Iowa. As she goes, so go the Gophers.

A strong junior season by Fiser let the Gophers to heights they have never reached, the Women's College World Series. 

After a pandemic shortened Senior season, Fiser returns for a fifth season. 

In 2019 Fiser mowed down 346 batters, with a 31-9 record and 1.27 ERA.

Departing senior Sydney Smith of Maple Grove is gone and that leaves a big opening for someone to gobble up a bunch of innings.

There are four more pitchers on staff that will compete for the innings including freshman Ansleigh Hollifield of Dacula, Georgia, sophomore Kianna Jones of Surrey, British Columbia, Junior Autumn Pease of Murrieta, California, and Ava Dueck of Maple Grove.

Pease looks to be the first one to get the backup role out of the gates.


2020 Gopher Pitching Statistics

BATTING

Most of the bats return for 2021.

The Gopher will need to step it up at the plate this season if they are to make a deep run.

Seniors MaKenna Partain, Katelyn Kemmetmueller, and Carlie Brandt will be asked to lead this group. This trio has been a fixture in the lineup for many season.

Juniors Emily Hansen and Natalie DenHartog can provide big bats.

Natalie DenHartog stepped up in 2020 big time batting .429 with 7 HR and 28 RBI.

Transfer Megan Dray out of North Carolina is a nice add behind the plate. She started 55 games for the Tarheels as a sophomore and hit .301.

Sophomore Sydney Strehlow from Kenosha, Wisconsin was off to a nice start as a freshman batting .261 and starting nearly every game.

There are plenty of open spots in the lineup for anyone to jump into. We will see on Friday where we stand.


2020 Gopher Batting Statistics

PROGNOSIS

The Gophers have elite pitching which should carry them to games late in the Big 10 Championship Tournament and to the Regionals.

Fiser has proven that she is an elite talent and can carry the load on the hill to get them to Oklahoma City.

Any success after that depends on getting run support from the offense.  The team needs a half dozen players to hit over .300 and to string hits and runs together.

It won't take all that much improvement from the offense to get the Gophers where they want to be late in the season.