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Gopher softball has Big Ten Pitcher of the Year, top-3 seed in conference tournament

Minnesota is ranked eighth in the country in the latest RPI poll.

Eying another trip to the college softball national tournament, the Gophers are idle in the opening round of the Big Ten Tournament Thursday before opening play as the No. 3 seed on Friday. 

Minnesota, ranked 12th in the NFCA poll and eighth in RPI, enters the tournament at 39-11 overall and 20-2 in the Big Ten. The Gophers have won the conference tourney three years in a row, and they'll play Friday at 6 p.m. against the winner of Thursday's game between Rutgers and Purdue. 

Having lost star power hitter Kendyl Lindaman to transfer (Florida), Minnesota has bounced back from last year's NCAA Tournament run with an even more dominant season. 

Last year's team finished 41-17 overall and 17-4 in the Big Ten, eventually falling to fifth-ranked Washington in the NCAA Seattle Regional. 

Minnesota has leaned on staff ace Amber Fiser, the unanimous Big Ten Pitcher of the Year, who is 25-7 with 281 strikeouts in 202 1/3 innings, along with a 1.25 ERA. She had just 237 strikeouts in 244 1/3 innings last season. 

And while Lindaman is hitting .353 with 15 homers and 50 RBI for 10th-ranked Florida, the Gophers have gotten offensive firepower from Mackenna Partain, Natalie DenHartog and Hope Brandner. 

Partain is hitting a ridiculous .417 with 62 runs; DenHartog, a freshman from Hopkins, is hitting .396 with 15 homers and a team high 58 RBI; Bradner is batting .354 with 16 home runs and 53 RBI. 

Minnesota's only conference losses were both by one run. They lost 4-3 to Illinois in extra innings and dropped a 1-0 game to Northwestern, whom they could face Saturday in the semifinals. 

There's a chance the Gophers could host an NCAA regional if they win the Big Ten Tournament, and that would bode well for a potentially deep run in the NCAA tourney. The NCAA tourney bracket will be revealed on Selection Sunday (this Sunday).  

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