Minnesota looking to bounce back offensively this weekend

The Gophers put together just four hits in two games last weekend.

Mark Heise

After suffering a four-hit weekend at the hands of tough Michigan pitching, the Minnesota softball team entered the new week ready to swing the bat.

Senior outfielder Sila Fernandez said the team spent practice time this week working on some of the trouble spots Michigan took advantage of, in preparation for games at Illinois and Iowa this weekend.

“For example, lefties worked on facing pitches on the outside corner, while our righties worked on hitting the inside pitch,” she said. “I think it’s prepared us for what’s to come and what’s to be expected when we play this weekend.”

Minnesota (21-12 overall, 4-4 Big Ten) travels to Illinois first for a 6 p.m. Friday game, and will follow with a noon start on Saturday. The Gophers then travel to Iowa for a doubleheader at noon on Sunday.

While Iowa may be the bigger challenge, boasting a 7-3 record compared to Illinois’ juxtaposed 3-7 mark, coach Lisa Bernstein said the Illini were still on the team’s radar when it came time to prepare for games.

“Illinois can hit the ball out of the park in seven of nine spots in its lineup,” she said. “They tend to have high-scoring games, so we’re going to have to bear down defensively.”

The Illini (24-23, 3-7) have clubbed 54 home runs in just 47 games this season, continually punishing pitchers who make mistakes.

Senior shortstop Angelena Mexicano leads the team with 16 homers and 48 RBIs, complementing an impressive .760 slugging percentage, this season.

But Illinois’ 23 losses suggest that there must be weaknesses in this team, and one comes from the pitching staff. The Illini staff combines for a 4.07 ERA, and aren’t helped by a team fielding percentage of .952.

The Gophers hold distinct advantages in both areas, with a team ERA of under three, and a .974 fielding percentage.

Following this series, Minnesota will face a different kind of team in Iowa.

The Hawkeyes have hit just 19 homers this season, but have made up for it in speed, stealing 68 bases. That, combined with a pitching staff that boasts a 1.14 ERA, places Iowa as one of the top teams in the conference.

Junior pitcher Brittany Weil has held opposing batters to a .163 batting average this season, and allows a hit every 1.8 innings pitched.

The Hawkeyes (29-13, 7-3) have already split games with Michigan and Northwestern this season – something the Gophers had an opportunity to do, but couldn’t quite execute.

Now, with Iowa being the only opponent in the top half of the conference remaining on Minnesota’s schedule, the opportunities to pick up some quality wins are dwindling.

But aside from this opportunity, junior third baseman Colleen Conway said Minnesota had another motivational tool heading into Iowa, making reference to a pair of shutout losses at Iowa two years ago.

“We’re excited to play Iowa because the last time we went there we didn’t leave on good terms,” she said. “We left with a bad taste in our mouth and we want to fix that.”