After three-year hiatus, softball preps for Big Ten tournament

Ace pitcher Piper Marten will lead the Gophers from the circle in today’s opening-round game against Illinois. A win will mean another game tonight.

Sam Campanaro

It’s a whole new ballgame for Minnesota’s softball team. The current members of the team are playing in the Big Ten tournament for the first time in their careers.

Even though the tournament is a new high for the Gophers, they plan on taking the games as they come – one at a time.

The first game on the agenda is against Illinois (35-13-1, 11-7 Big Ten) at noon today. A Minnesota win will advance the Gophers to take on host school Iowa (37-17, 13-4) at 5 p.m.

With the potential to play five games in three days, the Gophers (36-17-1, 12-8) will need to remain focused on the task at hand.

In practice Wednesday, Minnesota’s agenda was to get loose and be comfortable coming into today’s action.

“At this point in the season we don’t want to change things,” co-head coach Julie Standering said. “We will make small adjustments according to what Illinois does.”

The minor changes the Gophers will make might involve the designated player spot and pitching selection.

After practice, the Gophers watched some game footage to figure out potential Illini strategy and take note of any weaknesses. The key for the Gophers will be to stay on top of their game.

Pitcher Piper Marten will be critical to the Gophers’ strategy. Marten is the anticipated starter against Illinois.

“I’m going to focus on getting the key outs every inning,” Marten said. “I want to get the first out every inning and stay ahead in the count.”

Marten knows what her job is every time she steps inside the circle. If she and the defense stay on the same page, the Gophers should be in good shape.

Another focus for Minnesota will be coming through in pressure situations. The Gophers have consistently left runners on base in scoring position through the last stretch of the regular season.

Since April 25, a stretch of six games, Minnesota has left 51 runners on base in scoring position.

Having the key hits fall has been a stressed detail and a challenge for the Gophers. It will be critical to come out ready when Minnesota plays its first game.

“Illinois is a real high-low team,” Marten said. “If we can keep the momentum on our side we should be fine.”

The Gophers have seen all of the competition in the tournament earlier in the season. Winning games early will help to keep the energy on their side.

If Minnesota sees success in this tournament it will provide an advantage heading into the NCAA regionals. The conference tournament is designed to simulate a regional and help establish seeding arrangements in the next round of postseason play.

“We’re really excited to be here,” third baseman Jordanne Nygren said. “This experience will put us in a really good spot for regionals.”

Sam Campanaro covers softball and welcomes comments at [email protected]