Softball team takes to the road for a pair

Noah Seligman

The Big Ten season can’t come soon enough for Minnesota’s softball team. The Gophers have been idle since March 21 and take an eight-game winning streak into the first weekend of conference play.

Minnesota (19-10) visits Ohio State (17-10) for two games Friday evening and Saturday morning.

The Gophers then head to Happy Valley to play Penn State (12-19) in a doubleheader Sunday.

“We know we have a job to do, and we’re going to get that job done,” freshman pitcher Mandy Valadez said. “No one is going to break our rhythm right now.”

The Lions are just looking to find any kind of momentum of their own.

Penn State is last in the Big Ten after starting the season 1-10. Penn State has the fewest hits in the Big Ten with 160 and has also allowed a conference-worst 200 hits.

But the Buckeyes should pose a stiffer challenge to the Gophers this weekend.

Ohio State coach Linda Kalafatis said her team is looking for a consistent effort for the entire game. Earlier this season, the Buckeyes won 12 of 13 games from March 6-23.

“Minnesota is always a tough program,” Kalafatis said. “It’s always a battle when Ohio State and Minnesota play.”

Ohio State has the third-highest batting average among Big Ten teams with a team average of .293 from the plate. Minnesota is last in the conference with a team batting average of .241.

The Gophers said they are not concerned with gaudy hitting numbers. They just want to manufacture runs any way they can.

Minnesota coach Julie Standering said that she has been pleased with what she’s seen from her lineup.

“We have speed and we have strength,” she said. “We’re not relying on the long ball. Our offensive strategy is to move runners.”

This weekend Minnesota said it wants to focus on playing solid defense and scoring runs early and often.

“We’re a different team than we have been in the past,” junior leadoff hitter Stephanie Sward said. “We create a lot of runs. Our pitchers will keep us in the game; we just have to score runs for them.”

The pitching staff is paced by senior hurler Piper Marten. Marten is on the verge of becoming the third player in Big Ten, and 19th in NCAA history, to record 1,000 career strikeouts.

The Farmington, N.M., native has notched 999 total strikeouts, including 138 in 102.2 innings of work this season.

The Gophers staff leads the Big Ten with 242 strikeouts and has the third-best ERA in the conference with a staff mark of 1.43.

Minnesota is looking for a solid start to conference play and to maintain its momentum to go after the league title.

“It’s a goal that’s in reach,” Sward said. “We should take the Big Ten.”