Gophers head into second half of Big Ten season 3-7 but with confidence

Minnesota is tied for eighth place in the conference, but things are looking up.

Chris Lempesis

Minnesota’s softball team is officially midway through its 2005 Big Ten schedule, and while all 10 conference games have been at home, that’s been about the only constant so far.

The first half of the Big Ten season has held mixed results for the Gophers (22-20, 3-7 Big Ten). They have looked very solid at times, outscoring opponents 26-6 in their three wins, and struggled mightily at others, being outscored 48-9 in their seven losses.

Despite the subpar conference record, co-coach Julie Standering said she felt positive about the direction the Gophers are heading after a two-game sweep of Michigan State on Sunday.

“I’m very confident in the potential of this group to win every ballgame from this point on,” she said. “I know it might be a big, strong statement, but I wouldn’t say that if I didn’t believe it.”

A big reason for this optimism lies in Minnesota’s youth.

The Gophers, who have 13 underclassmen on their 21-player roster, have done a lot of hands-on learning through the first 42 games of the season, and Standering said that learning is starting to show.

“We let go of some games we should’ve won, but those were lessons learned,” she said. “That is enabling us to be shooting for what we’re at right now.”

Minnesota is shooting for its third-straight Big Ten Tournament berth. Achieving that goal is not out of the question, despite the team’s record.

The Gophers currently find themselves in a tie for eighth place in the conference with rival Wisconsin and a game behind seventh-place Ohio State. The top eight teams make the conference tournament.

Another reason for hope lies in the fact that Minnesota’s schedule will be less daunting than it was in the first half of the Big Ten season.

While six of their first 10 games came against three of the conference’s best teams – first-place Northwestern, second-place Michigan and tied-for-fourth Penn State – six of the Gophers’ final 10 games will come against three of the worst teams: Indiana, Illinois and the Badgers.

Recordwise, the Gophers are included in that group as of now. But co-coach Lisa Bernstein said that if the team continues on the path it’s on now, the second half should be significantly more consistent.

For the better.

“We’ve got to just keep working, and staying true to form, and keeping a consistent attitude and a consistent approach,” Bernstein said. “And we’ll be in great shape.”

Higginbotham honored

Sophomore catcher Megan Higginbotham was named Big Ten player of the week Monday. It is the second time in her career and first time this year she has earned the honor.

Higginbotham was nearly flawless at the plate in the Gophers’ four games last week. She went 12-for-14 (.857) with two home runs, eight RBIs and five runs.