College Softball: Former Warrior prominent player in Gophers' success
Nikki Anderson has two years of eligibility remaining but already she has made an impact on the University of Minnesota softball program and has helped the Gophers rise to national prominence.
The flame-throwing left-hander from Brainerd finished her sophomore season at Minnesota 3-1 with a sparkling 1.50 ERA. Sixteenth-seeded Minnesota finished its season 44-12 after winning its first Big Ten Tournament title since 1999 and reaching its first-ever super regional.
The Gophers haven't had a losing season since Jessica Allister took over as head coach in 2011. Second-team All-Americans Sara Moulton and Kaitlyn Richardson were just two of many talented players on a loaded Gopher roster.
"I think coach Allister has done a wonderful job recruiting the top players in the nation," Anderson said. "I'm so excited for this year's recruits to come in and to get an opportunity to play with them. They're the best in Minnesota and the best in the nation.
"Being able to play with All-Americans like Kaitlyn and Sara is the chance of a lifetime. They're my best friends. It's so cool to say I play softball with them.
"I love it here. I love the campus, I love the girls, I love the coaches. We have very high expectations and the coaches hold us to those. It's been very exciting to be part of such a great team."
In the Big Ten Tournament, Minnesota defeated Purdue 6-3 in the quarterfinals as Anderson picked up her second save of the season. The Gophers then beat Ohio State 9-0 and Michigan 3-2 to earn the right to host an NCAA Regional.
"Everyone worked so hard to get there," Anderson said. "One of our first goals was to win the Big Ten championship, and we did that. It showed how far this team has come under coach Allister. She tells us every single day she believes in us, that we're going to win this championship. I wouldn't want to be with any other team."
In the NCAA Minneapolis Regional, the Gophers beat Green Bay 10-1 and North Dakota State 4-1 before losing to Auburn 4-3. Minnesota regrouped to beat Auburn 8-6 as Anderson earned her third win, striking out four in 3.2 scoreless innings, sending the Gophers to the super regional at Eugene, Ore.
The Gophers' season ended with 10-2 and 6-2 losses to top-seeded Oregon and Anderson pitched in both games.
"Going to supers was the chance of a lifetime," Anderson said. "I think we'll do it again next year. It was really a cool atmosphere, going to Oregon, trying to take two from Oregon, the No. 1 team in the nation. To come out and compete the way we did was unbelievable.
"Traveling is so much fun. I love traveling and seeing different places. Being a Gopher is a once in a lifetime opportunity. The opportunities our coaches give us, and the school gives us, bar none they're the best."
At Brainerd High School, the 2012 graduate was named Minnesota's Ms. Softball and Minnesota's Gatorade Softball Player of the Year. She compiled a 71-12 career record with the Warriors with a 0.742 ERA, 33 shutouts and 791 strikeouts in 514.1 innings.
She pitched the Warriors to back-to-back state tournaments her sophomore and junior seasons. Anderson was a two-time all-state and four-time all-conference and all-section player.
But obviously, she had to adjust to college softball. As a freshman, she was a respectable 4-4 with a 4.83 ERA but opponents did hit .311 against her.
"The strike zone is smaller, the umps are tougher, the level of play is better," Anderson said. "Now you're playing against the top girls in the nation every time you step on the field.
"It definitely was a big step for me to take but what a great step to take. I've learned so much about the game the past two years. I'm just glad I get two more years to do it."
This season, Anderson was the Gophers' primary closer. Twenty of her 22 appearances were in relief. She struck out 51 in 42 innings. She finished 19 games, the most in one season in school history, and second-most in the Big Ten. She finished second in the conference in relief appearances.
Moulton and Sara Groenewegen were the Gophers' workhorses on the mound. Moulton finished 27-8 with a 1.97 ERA. Groenewegen was 14-3 with a 2.23 ERA.
"I brought something a little different," Anderson said. "Groenewegen has great movement, Moulton hits her spots. I bring speed to the plate, and being left-handed is definitely an advantage.
"I closed a lot of games. I was put in tough situations. Hopefully I was able to change the momentum a little bit so we could keep on winning."
Anderson said she's averaging in the neighborhood of 67-68 mph and hit 71 mph once this season.
Moulton has completed her career at Minnesota, possibly giving Anderson, an elementary education major, an opportunity to start in 2015.
"Whatever role I'm given I will absolutely embrace that and I will do my very best," Anderson said.
"It's been a really fun ride," she added. "I'm really excited to see how the next two years go. I think it will go well for us."---Nikki Anderson