Minnesota to play two against SDSU

by Mark Heise

After a tough loss, it usually takes a while for a team to regroup.

But that’s not what the Minnesota softball team is focusing on after one bad inning handed the team a 7-1 loss to No. 10 Northwestern on Sunday.

Instead, the Gophers (19-17 overall, 2-5 Big Ten) are already looking ahead to today’s doubleheader against South Dakota State at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium, starting at 4 p.m.

“Right now we’ve got a fresh start in mind,” coach Julie Standering said. “And getting a chance to go up against a nonconference opponent gives us a chance to work through some things and maybe build momentum.”

Momentum has been in Minnesota’s favor over the last week as the Gophers have won six of their last seven games. And despite the loss, sophomore catcher Shannon Stemper said the team’s confidence is still high.

“We’re playing really well, we’ve just had one bad inning, and that happens to the best of teams,” she said. “We’re going into this doubleheader really confident, and hopefully use (the games) as something to build off of when we head to Michigan this weekend.”

The Jackrabbits (11-26) have not been much of a hitting threat to opponents this season, with an on-base percentage of less than .300 and a slugging percentage at just .293.

With four times the home runs hit and a 3.33-2.75 runs-per-game advantage, the Gophers might have a slight edge over South Dakota State.

The Jackrabbits could run into trouble offensively, because Minnesota’s pitching staff has been strong as of late.

“Our pitchers are looking really good right now,” Stemper said. “They’re hitting their spots, they have good movement on the ball, they’re really tough to hit right now. It’d be nice to back them up with a few more runs though.”

One challenge facing the Gophers is the possibility of fatigue. With the doubleheader making seven games in as many days, arms are bound to become sore. The team held an optional practice Monday to help rest its players if needed.

“We’ve been playing a lot of softball lately, and it’s been really important for us to do what we need to do to take care of ourselves,” junior outfielder Colleen Powers said.

“It’s been a challenge to come out and focus every day. But when we have optional practice and the whole team is showing up, it’s really a good sign for us.”

With a shot at making the Big Ten tournament on the line, the main focus for Minnesota has to be its remaining six conference games. But Powers said the Gophers are still being careful not to overlook any of their nonconference opponents.

“We still need seven strong innings no matter who we play,” she said. “South Dakota State’s going to be aggressive and will try to put pressure on us, but if we can put up seven strong innings I think we’ll be in good shape.”