Against Badgers, Gophers look for rare series win

Minn. hasn’t won a full Big Ten series in its last 24 opportunities; last year it beat Wisconsin with a dramatic comeback but never got a chance at the sweep – the 2nd game was canceled.

Against Badgers, Gophers look for rare series win

Joe Michaud-Scorza, Daily File Photo

Jesse Mandell-McClinton

Unless you count a 2010 win over Wisconsin after which the second game was canceled, the Gophers softball team hasnâÄôt won a series against a Big Ten opponent in its last 24 tries.

MinnesotaâÄôs last two-game sweep âÄî which constitutes winning a conference series âÄî was over Indiana in March 2009.

But the Gophers have a chance to prove the shortened matchup last year wasnâÄôt a fluke when they head to Madison today for a doubleheader against the Badgers.

The Gophers have won the first game of their matchups against Indiana, Penn State and Iowa this year, before losing the second game by an average of less than two runs. ItâÄôs a trend that will have to change if Minnesota hopes to climb out of the bottom half of the conference. The Gophers sit in seventh place at 3-5 despite a 25-18 overall record.

Wisconsin also hasnâÄôt won a conference series this season. The Badgers (22-17, 2-6 Big Ten) are tied for second-to-last in the Big Ten and have only beaten Michigan State and Northwestern, teams with a combined conference record of 5-13.

Last season, MinnesotaâÄôs lone game against Wisconsin was likely the highlight of the season, as it won the extra-inning game with six runs in the bottom of the 10th after the Badgers scored five in the top of the inning.

The Gophers need to find a way to generate that kind of offense; breakout freshman pitcher Sara Moulton has done her part to boost MinnesotaâÄôs staff and give the team a chance to win. Moulton pitched all 14 innings at home in two games against Penn State over the weekend and only gave up two runs, neither of them earned.

But the GophersâÄô bats didnâÄôt keep pace with their pitcher, scoring just one run in the series and only winning behind MoultonâÄôs Saturday shutout, her 12th of the year.

âÄúWe need to put up some more runs on the board,âÄù head coach Jessica Allister said about the teamâÄôs focus going forward in Big Ten play. Allister has talked all season about her team having to improve each time they practice and play, and it simply hasnâÄôt happened offensively as of late.

The Gophers are currently second to last in Big Ten batting average, hitting just .254 as a squad. The program as a whole has only registered two double-digit-hit games in the past three seasons of Big Ten play, neither of them occurring this year. Minnesota has not surpassed eight hits in conference play this season.

It isnâÄôt the entire lineup thatâÄôs coming up short, as the top four hitters in the lineup have combined for 79 of the teamâÄôs 140 RBIs and 18 of the teamâÄôs 20 home runs. Rather, the regular 7-8-9 hitters, Allie Siu, Aubrey Davis and Bree Blanchette, are hitting .196, .220 and .191, respectively, with 19 RBIs between them.

The RBI disparity can be excused to some extent, as the bottom of the order is often asked to bunt and hit behind base runners to set up scoring chances. Still, its current production isnâÄôt going to do much to help the teamâÄôs run production. The top of the order will eventually need more runners to bring home.

The first game today has been pushed up an hour to 3 p.m. today due to inclement weather. It may be a good sign for Minnesota, as the Gophers are 16-6 this year in games that start at or before 3 p.m.