Why You've Got To Hand It To espnW Softball Player Of The Week Sara Groenewegen
Pitching wins are among both the most cherished and flawed statistics in sports, the combined product of a team's pitching, hitting, defense, base running and luck ascribed to one individual.
They are decidedly less flawed the way espnW player of the week Sara Groenewegen accumulates them.
Consider the most recent work turned in by No. 19 Minnesota's All-American.
While not the same fortress it was when the likes of Katelyn Boyd, Katie Burkhart, Kaitlin Cochran and Dallas Escobedo defended it not so long ago, Arizona State's Farrington Stadium remains a tough spot for visiting teams. The Sun Devils, ranked No. 17, spend most of the nonconference season at home, and they are 30-9 in those games since the start of last season.
Yet in the marquee game of the past weekend's tournament in Tempe, Arizona, Groenewegen drove in two runs with a two-out hit on the first pitch she saw in the top of the first inning. The Gophers weren't done, adding runs in the fourth, six and seventh en route to a 10-1 win, but the game was settled by Groenewegen's swing because her arm said it was done.
Moving from the batter's box to the pitching circle with a comfortable lead courtesy of herself, Minnesota's ace limited the Sun Devils to four hits, one run and struck out 10 batters.
That's a win well earned. And so is this weekly accolade.
For the weekend in the desert, Groenewegen went 3-0 with a 1.59 ERA, 0.73 WHIP and 32 strikeouts in 22 innings in the circle. Stationed in the middle of the batting order for all five of Minnesota's wins, two against Houston and one each against Arizona State, Mount Saint Mary's and Saint Francis, she hit a home run, drove in five runs and posted a .588 on-base percentage.
The season's third week was not kind to most of those who spend their time in the pitching circle. Hitters with player-of-the-week credentials popped up everywhere you looked.
Georgia State sophomore Ivie Drake, one of college softball's hidden stars, reached base in 16 of 24 plate appearances and hit three home runs among seven extra-base hits.
But if Drake reaching base 75 percent of the time was good, it wasn't quite as good as the .824 on-base percentage with power compiled by Ohio State's Cammi Prantl in a strong week for the Buckeyes.
Then again, Prantl only managed a .786 batting average. Arizona State's Nikki Girard trumped that with 10 hits in 12 at-bats, an .833 batting average that included four doubles and a homer (although only a single off Groenewegen).
Coming up with something to beat out any of those individual performances would be the work of two players. Fortunately for Minnesota, that's effectively what their senior All-American gives them. Two for the price of one.
And at least at the top of the sport, that isn't necessarily as common as our memories may suggest.
There were 15 games this past week between ranked teams. Out of all of those encounters, Groenewegen was the only starting pitcher who even batted, let alone produced runs (Oregon's Geri Ann Glasco hit a home run and made a relief appearance in a win against Missouri).
Some of that was random. Oklahoma dual threat Paige Parker sat out most of the weekend. James Madison didn't play any ranked opponents, leaving Jailyn Ford and Megan Good out of the picture, as was true of Texas A&M's Samantha Show. But in the sport that gave us Lisa Fernandez, Jennie Finch, Danielle Lawrie, Keilani Ricketts and Michele Smith, it's not the longest list these days.
It takes something extra to stand out from the crowd of offensive giants in softball right now. Then again, it takes something extra to stand out from the crowd of special talents populating the women's sports teams at Minnesota, where Rachel Banham recently set the Big Ten scoring record in basketball and Hannah Brandt became the juggernaut hockey team's all-time leader in points.
You almost have to be as good as two players. You have to be able to win games single-handedly.
These days, that's rare for a pitcher.