It’s often been said that teams "limp to the finish" of a season. Others simply faceplant short of the finish line. Once in a blue moon, we find a team that does both.
Maryland softball entered this weekend's Minnesota series without a win in three weeks or the services of perhaps its two most reliable hitters. Sarah Calta tore her ACL tracking down a fly ball against Michigan, and Skylynne Ellazar was ruled out with a concussion.
Predictably, the scattered remains of the Terrapin lineup were bulldozed by Sara Groenewegen, the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year and one of the nation’s most dominant pitchers. With the potent Golden Gopher offense also in prime form, Maryland was completely overmatched.
No runs and no hits for the Terps.
Groenewegen faced 17 batters in this game. Other than Kylie Datil walking and Destiney Henderson reaching on an error in the top of the second, the Terps got nothing off of her. She struck out 10 batters and didn’t even go through the whole lineup twice.
Brenna Nation gave up a run in the first, three in the second and six in the fourth. Gopher third baseman Sam Macken was 3-for-3 with a double, three-run homer and single. First baseman Maddie Houlihan added a three-run shot of her own in the fourth to make it a 10-run game.
Groenewegen came back in the fifth and finished off her third no-hitter of the season. It’s the first time Maryland has been held hitless, although there have been close calls.
The Terps struck first in the opening frame. After Lindsey Schmeiser reached on an error and Destiney Henderson legged out a bunt single, Kristina Dillard laced an RBI single up the middle.
But it wasn’t long before normalcy was restored. The Gophers scored five runs against Madison Martin in the second, three against Hannah Dewey in the third, and three against Ari Jarvis in the fourth.
It all started with another Houlihan homer in the second. Later in the inning, two more runs scored after a Sydney Dwyer fly ball bounced off Henderson’s glove in left. Dewey relieved Martin shortly thereafter, but allowed a pair of inherited runners to score (both unearned). A Sydney Fabian two-run double was the big hit in the third, and another one from Kayla Wenner in the fourth stretched the lead to double digits.
Senior southpaw Nikki Anderson wasn’t nearly as dominant as Groenewegen, but she held the Terps to just one run on five hits in four innings (sophomore Kylie Stober pitched the fifth). Dillard was 2-for-3, while Schmeiser, Henderson, Dewey and Jordan Aughinbaugh added hits of their own.
The Gophers tallied two runs in the first and one in the second, then another Houlihan two-run homer chased Nation from the game in the bottom of the third. Dewey got out of the inning with any additional damage, but allowed a three-run homer to Groenewegen and a solo shot to Brandi McGregor in the fourth.
Groenewegen was dominant in the circle once again. She tossed four perfect innings and fanned eight Terrapin hitters. Because it was Senior Day, Anderson entered in the fifth, and a Sarah Lang infield single with one out squashed the fans’ hopes of a perfect game. But that was all the Terps could muster before officially getting run ruled again.
Maryland was outscored 30-1 in the series, after being outscored 33-1 by Michigan last weekend. So that’s 63-2 overall, good for an average defeat of over 10 runs. The run rule has ended each of the Terps’ last six games.
The Terps collectively had 7 hits in 15 innings, and none of them came against Groenewegen (who struck out 18 of the 29 batters she faced). Meanwhile, Minnesota first baseman Maddie Houlihan was 6-for-7 with 3 homers and 8 RBIs in the series.
Brenna Nation has fallen to 5-20 and lost her last six decisions.
Jordan Aughinbaugh’s double on Saturday was the team’s only extra-base hit of the series. Minnesota had 11 (in just 12 innings, no less).
A quick word about Groenewegen
Sure, the junior was as close to literally unhittable as you’ll ever see this weekend. But it’s not much different from what she does all the time. She’s 25-5 with a 1.87 ERA and 268 strikeouts in 183.2 innings. With a week to go in the season, she’s closing in on the pitching triple crown in the conference (wins and strikeouts are a certainty, but ERA is close between her and Purdue’s Lily Fecho).
"She throws hard, and she has a really great changeup, and she doesn’t tip it," head coach Julie Wright said.
Groenewegen, of course, also hits cleanup for a strong Gopher offense. She’s hitting "just" .327, but has a team-high .500 on-base percentage and a .637 slugging percentage. Her home run Sunday was her 10th of the year, tied for second most on the team (Macken 11, Houlihan 10). The junior is certainly in line for Big Ten Pitcher of the Year, and might just win her second straight Player of the Year award, as well (other candidates: Michigan’s Sierra Romero, Nebraska’s MJ Knighten, and Ohio State’s Alex Bayne).
The injury bug bites
The Terps (11-38, 3-17 B1G) have now set the program record for losses in a season. A bunch of things haven’t quite gone their way, but save for Juli Strange’s ACL tear in the fall and Lindsey Schmeiser missing a good chunk of the nonconference season for largely precautionary reasons, they haven’t exactly been ravaged by injuries.
But missing both Ellazar and Calta is a massive blow. Ellazar, who got her chance as a starter this year because of Strange’s injury, has posted a .381/.442/.525 slash line, topping the team in all three categories. She also leads the squad with 53 hits and 73 total bases.
Calta started the season slowly, but hit for a team-high .408 average in conference play. She became a fixture at the top of the lineup, with blazing speed that helped her leg out singles and steal bags (she had a team-high 8 steals in 9 attempts).
One final home series against Indiana (26-23, 8-12 B1G). In theory, the Terps could earn the last spot in the Big Ten tournament if they sweep the Hoosiers and Michigan State (6-14 in conference play but riding a 4-game win streak) gets swept by Ohio State. In such an event, both teams would be 6-17, with Maryland holding the tiebreaker thanks to a series win over the Spartans. Of course, given that the Terps haven’t won a game since then, that Calta is surely out and Ellazar is questionable, their chances of playing beyond this coming weekend are somewhere between "microscopic" and "excessively slim."
Julie Wright: "It’s a three-game season, so we’re gonna do everything we can to do our part, and pray to the softball gods that Ohio State does theirs."