Gophers must stop Hoosiers this weekend to finish at top

Michael Rand

The type of finish the Gophers softball team experienced Wednesday night could foreshadow how the rest of their season is going to unfold.
In compiling a 23-6 non-conference record, Minnesota played its share of tough teams, but it also had a few laughers against lesser foes like Detroit Mercy and Robert Morris.
The Gophers’ home-opening doubleheader against Mankato State two days ago figured to give them a mild tune-up for their first Big Ten home series this weekend against Indiana. The last time Minnesota and Mankato State met, in 1995, the Gophers shut the Mavericks out twice, 8-0 and 4-0.
Instead of fine-tuning their fundamentals en route to a pair of easy wins, however, the Gophers, after winning game one 5-0, had to rally for two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning of game two to pull out a 3-2 win.
Minnesota, which dropped its first three Big Ten games of the season at Michigan State, will have to use Wednesday’s games to learn a different lesson in preparation for its series with the Hoosiers. It wasn’t a skills brush-up, it was a gut check.
The Gophers went 17-6 in the Big Ten last year and finished second. That means their 0-3 conference start doesn’t allow much margin for error. Indiana’s impressive start (21-8, 5-0 in the Big Ten) makes the task even more important this weekend.
“We need to come out and take care of Indiana,” Gophers coach Lisa Bernstein-O’Brien said. “Game one, game two, then game three.”
The Hoosiers, of course, will have some say in the matter.
Monica Armendarez (.466 batting average, six homers, 33 RBIs) and Meg Montgomery (.384, eight homers, 35 RBIs) lead Indiana’s offensive attack. The Hoosiers have a team batting average of .326, and have hit 22 home runs — 13 more than the Gophers.
Indiana doesn’t just slug the ball. Four players have 10 or more stolen bases, and the team is 57 for 63 in stolen base attempts this season. Minnesota, by comparison, is 46 for 56.
“They play a real aggressive style,” Bernstein-O’Brien said. “They’ve been stealing a lot of bases.”
The Hoosiers’ pitching staff basically consists of two freshmen, but both have been effective so far. Teresa Martinez (10-4, 1.09 earned run average) and Jessica Creith (11-4, 1.66 ERA) should see most of the pitching duties this weekend.
Indiana’s big weakness — maybe gigantic is a better word — is defense. The Hoosiers have committed 67 errors this season, whereas Minnesota has made just 27. Of the 90 runs Indiana has given up, only 39 are earned.
In other words, the Hoosiers are more than capable of scoring 10 runs in a game, and its defense is also bad enough to give up 10. Given that, the games probably won’t be pretty. But they should be close.
The Gophers were 9-2 in Big Ten games decided by two or fewer runs last season, but they are 0-2 this year.
Outfielder Rachel Nelson said she hopes the Gophers’ come-from-behind win against Mankato State gets the team back in the habit of winning close games. Beating Indiana isn’t critical at this point in the season, but it is important.
“They’re going to be gunning at us, just like every other Big Ten team,” Nelson said. “We just have to be ready.”