In double-header, Minn. defense must handle potent Wildcats duo

Northwestern’s Adrienne Monka and Emily Allard bat .506 and .486, respectively.

by Jesse Mandell-McClinton

Another series, another promising game-one win, and another disappointing split on MinnesotaâÄôs Big Ten schedule.

ItâÄôs a trend the softball team is acutely aware of but canâÄôt seem to shake, falling victim to that familiar end for the fifth consecutive series last weekend against Michigan State.

Minnesota heads into its mid-week doubleheader today at Northwestern in the midst of a 10-game stretch in which it has alternated wins and losses, all against Big Ten opponents.

Still, itâÄôs important to remember that the Gophers won only two conference games last season. While this may be a frustrating way to pull it off, Minnesota (28-21, 6-8 Big Ten) has tripled its conference win total from 2010.

Quiet bats have been the GophersâÄô AchillesâÄô heel all season. Going into the series against the Wildcats, the Gophers are the lone team in the Big Ten with only two players hitting above .275. Other issues have been creeping in over the past few weeks as well.

The teamâÄôs recent defensive struggles continued last weekend against Michigan State, as a combination of errors and wild pitches aided the Spartans in scoring 12 runs Sunday, nine of which came in the fifth inning.

Earlier in the year, head coach Jessica Allister spoke about how a team needs three things to win a game: pitching, hitting and defense. Minnesota has only been getting the pitching portion lately, primarily from four-time Big Ten Freshman of the Week Sara Moulton (25-12, 13 shutouts). As a team, it will need to improve in the other two areas to find a groove heading toward the season’s end.

Despite its poor conference record, Northwestern (22-15, 4-8 Big Ten) boasts the top two hitters in the Big Ten in terms of average. Junior Adrienne Monka and sophomore Emily Allard are hitting .506 and .486, respectively. The numbers are tops in the Big Ten and rank second and sixth nationally. Monka and Allard may hit in the same lineup, but they have built up their impressive numbers in different ways.

Monka is NorthwesternâÄôs No. 3 hitter and has racked up 46 RBI behind a Big Ten leading .951 slugging percentage. On the other hand, Allard, the teamâÄôs leadoff hitter, is just sixth on the team with 12 RBI and only has 4 extra base hits this year.

Monka is likely the most feared hitter in the Big Ten. She leads the conference with 53 walks, which has helped raise her on-base percentage to an NCAA-leading .718, nearly 100 points better than the second-best mark of .624.

Minnesota will have to rely on its strong pitching to get around the WildcatsâÄô potent lineup and try to hit a few more gaps on the offensive side if the Gophers hope to grab their first win in Evanston since 2004.