On the rise, Minnesota hosts falling Ohio State

The teams are headed in opposite directions; the Gophers are 19-14 while the Buckeyes are 7-20 and have lost six straight.

The softball team comes back to Minneapolis to play its first home games of the season with a pair of games this weekend against Ohio State.

The Gophers (19-14, 1-1 Big Ten) split two games in Indiana last week, and head into their second weekend of conference play against the Buckeyes. Minnesota has won 17 of its last 25, and only needs one win against Ohio State to match its 2010 Big Ten win total of two games.

The Gophers have a good chance of crossing that barrier against Ohio State, which, with an overall record of 7-20, sits at the bottom of the conference. The Buckeyes have lost their last six games, including a pair to Iowa last weekend by a combined score of 12-5.

Last year in Columbus, the Gophers lost both their matchups against Ohio State when the Buckeyes were ranked No. 19. The first was a rain delayed 2-1 loss, in which 2 1/2 innings were postponed to Sunday. The second game on Sunday was not nearly as close. Although Minnesota put up five runs, its third highest total of the 2010 Big Ten season, Ohio State put up 13 in an offensive surge led by catcher Sam MarderâÄôs fourth-inning grand slam.

The matchup is looking a bit different for both teams this year. Marder, a senior last year, is gone, along with Ohio StateâÄôs national ranking. Though Ohio State has won the last five meetings between the teams, the programs are headed in opposite directions. Minnesota has already passed its overall win total from last year, and Ohio State has already lost 20 games, a figure it hasnâÄôt reached in a full season since 2008.

The Buckeyes are led by junior shortstop Alicia Herron, who leads the team in runs, walks, hits, RBIs and a .423 average. Herron already has 11 multi-hit performances this season, but will be facing the Big Ten leader in wins in MinnesotaâÄôs Sara Moulton.

Moulton (18-8) has all but one of the GophersâÄô victories this year, half of them coming by way of shutout. Opponents are hitting just .206 against Moulton this year âÄî good for fifth in the conference âÄî and sheâÄôs averaging seven strikeouts an outing. Moulton already earned two Big Ten pitcher of the week awards and is a big reason for the teamâÄôs turnaround this season.

The pitching for Ohio State isnâÄôt quite as impressive, as the team has compiled a 5.72 ERA, worst in the Big Ten by more than two runs.

ItâÄôs going to be a chilly one, with Weather.com forecasting a high of just 49 degrees this weekend, but if all goes right, Minnesota could come out of the series with overall and conference win totals that surpass the programâÄôs 2010 effort.