Minnesota to close Big Ten year

Emily Wickstrom

Minnesota’s softball team is out of postseason play, but still hoping to end its season on a high note.

In their final Big Ten games, the Gophers (14-29, 1-15 Big Ten) will host Indiana (26-22-1, 6-9 Big Ten)at 6 p.m. today and noon Saturday. On Sunday, Minnesota will face Purdue (28-28, 5-10 Big Ten) in a doubleheader beginning at noon. All games will be played at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium.

With just one conference win and the worst record in the Big Ten, Minnesota already has been eliminated from the Big Ten Tournament, which only the top eight teams qualify for.

But even without the option of a postseason, co-coach Lisa Bernstein said the Gophers’ attitude has not changed.

“We’re going out there to win ballgames every single time,” Bernstein said. “We expect to go in and have good competition against Indiana and Purdue – and we need to win ballgames this weekend.”

Minnesota’s last four conference games might still have a lot to do with which teams qualify, however.

The Hoosiers and Boilermakers are in eighth and ninth place, respectively, with Wisconsin close behind.

With a sweep Minnesota could keep one or both teams out of the Big Ten Tournament.

“Of course we had the hopes of going to the Big Ten Tournament,” junior catcher Megan Higginbotham said. “But with that being out of the picture we have the fight in our team to go out and win games.”

Minnesota’s pitching staff, coming off two shutout victories against Wisconsin-Green Bay, will have its hands full with some of Indiana’s hitters.

Lauren Hines boasts the second-highest batting average (.433) in the Big Ten, while teammate Mariangee Bogado bats .353.

Bogado is also the Hoosiers’ top pitcher, with a 1.64 earned run average and 238 strikeouts.

Senior outfielder Stefanie Watt said it doesn’t really matter who Minnesota plays.

“We’re last, but we still almost beat the top team (Northwestern),” Watt said. “Any team in the Big Ten is a tough team. It doesn’t really matter where you’re standing Ö anything can happen with our conference.”

Higginbotham said the Gophers are using their last games to focus on improving themselves rather than on the competition.

“We’ve handled adversity really well this year,” Higginbotham said. “We can all improve our game for next year. I have high expectations for our team for next year with our experience.”