Gophers hope to stop losing streak against Ohio St.

Sophomore Alissa Koch will try to earn her first victory of the year.

Gophers hope to stop losing streak against Ohio St.

Marco LaNave

Midway through the Big Ten softball season, the Gophers are having their resiliency tested. The Gophers play at No. 23 Ohio State as they try to snap a nine-game losing streak, which matches their longest losing streak in a single season since 1994. âÄúYou canâÄôt really look at it like nothingâÄôs going right, in our sense, because you canâÄôt go any lower. You can only go up from here,âÄù said freshman Alex Davis, who is hitless in four Big Ten home games but made several key defensive plays at her new shortstop position last weekend. âÄúThatâÄôs what weâÄôre striving for, and thatâÄôs what we say every day, is we can only go up, and thatâÄôs where weâÄôre aiming.âÄù The Gophers (15-29, 1-9 Big Ten) have the lowest batting average of any Big Ten team, and freshman Lacey Middlebrooks, responsible for all of MinnesotaâÄôs wins this season, hasnâÄôt pitched since the first game of an April 14 doubleheader at Northwestern. âÄú[Middlebrooks pitching] gives us some options, but thatâÄôs not an option for us,âÄù Bernstein said after last SundayâÄôs loss to Indiana. Since then, sophomore Alissa Koch, who owns a 0-15 record this season, has pitched the last 15 1/3 defensive innings for the Gophers. âÄúItâÄôs going to be [KochâÄôs] ball âÄòtil the end of the year,âÄù co-head coach Lisa Bernstein said after a pair of losses to Indiana last weekend, though she mentioned freshman utility player Jessie Hathaway as another pitching option. Koch has pitched 14 complete games with a 5.88 ERA this season, and the Gophers have won three of her 18 starts (with Middlebrooks receiving the decision). âÄúAt this point, IâÄôm not even thinking about my record because there are games that are good [and] bad,âÄù said Koch, who was 1-7 last season âÄî all in nonconference games âÄî with a win in her final start. âÄúI might not have a win, but as a team we do, and thatâÄôs the important part.âÄù Koch certainly gave her team a chance to win last Saturday against the Hoosiers. After allowing four home runs in her previous three appearances, Koch induced 16 ground-ball outs and allowed just one fly ball to the outfield and three hits in a 1-0 loss. Davis said she was proud of Koch for trusting her defense. âÄúI was having so much fun playing behind her,âÄù said Davis, who was perfect on nine ground-ball chances last weekend after making her first start at shortstop April 11. âÄúI was playing really free and kind of excited because weâÄôve practiced all of these situations âĦ and we knew what to do with the ball when it happened.âÄù The Gophers committed 12 errors that led to 18 unearned runs in their first six Big Ten games, but they had just three errors that led to four unearned runs against Indiana. Three of those came during IndianaâÄôs seven-run first inning, after which Koch settled in to allow just one run on three hits the last six innings of an 8-3 loss. âÄúShe came back and she battled and kept mixing speeds, changed planes with her pitches,âÄù Bernstein said. Koch will need to quickly build on recent improvements for the Gophers to have a shot at their first win in Columbus since 2004. The Buckeyes feature the Big TenâÄôs leading hitter in shortstop Alicia Herron (.432 batting average through Sunday). They also have a slugger in catcher Sam Marder (.366), who leads the Big Ten in on-base percentage (.562), is second in slugging percentage (.849) and is tied for second in home runs (13) after tying for the conference lead last season. Ohio State has its own outstanding freshman pitcher in Melanie Nichols (13-2, 2.09 ERA), but the Gophers will have little time in their preparation to think about what might have been an exciting matchup of first-year pitchers in Nichols and Middlebrooks. Instead, the GophersâÄô excitement must largely be derived from anticipation of the fruits of experience gained by their young players. âÄúThey are getting better in [the coaching staffâÄôs] eyes, and every day we see improvement,âÄù Bernstein said. âÄúTheyâÄôre getting their feet wet, and itâÄôll pay off.âÄù