Wichita-bound Gophers in need of offense

After a four-run effort last weekend, Minnesota searches for offense.

Mark Heise

Following an offensive drought last weekend, the Minnesota softball team will try to rebound heading into the Shocker Invitational in Wichita, Kansas.

This week on the field the Gophers practiced several different offensive situations and are looking to improve on last weekend’s four runs during a five-game stretch.

“This week we’ve worked a lot on our short game and moving runners,” senior shortstop Megan Higginbotham said. “We need to find ways to manufacture some runs in order to be successful, so that’s been our focus.”

Minnesota (8-7) is hitting just .219, with senior Katie Meyer leading the way, hitting .267.

The Gophers have found a potential strong point in pitching, as sophomore Briana Hassett leads the team with a 2.56 ERA and three shutouts.

Minnesota will start the tournament by trying to find a way past Nebraska – a team the Gophers have traditionally struggled against – today at 10 a.m. and again Saturday at 12:30 p.m.

The 23rd-ranked Huskers (18-10) have allowed just two runs over the teams’ last two meetings, but have struggled to put teams away twice this season.

Nebraska is 4-4 against teams it has met up with more than once.

Sophomore right fielder Meghan Mullin is hitting .442 for Nebraska this season, so retiring her should be a priority for Minnesota.

“They’ve got speed, they’ve got power and they’re a regional team,” coach Lisa Bernstein said. “They’re one of the top teams in the Big 12, and we’re looking forward to playing them. I’m excited to see the kids perform against them.”

Win or lose, the Gophers will have to deal with Wichita State and its home crowd at 3 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday.

The Shockers (8-15) are performing better than their record shows, as eight of their 15 losses have come against ranked teams, three by two runs or less.

Wichita State averages four runs per game, which means to win Minnesota will need to take advantage of the Shockers’ 4.8 earned run average.

Sophomore pitcher Britnee Barnett leads the Shockers in hitting and pitching, with a .343 batting average and a 4.16 ERA. Barnett’s batting average is the only one above .300 from Wichita State’s lineup.

The Gophers will round out the tournament against Western Illinois on Sunday at 10 a.m.

The Westerwinds (3-4) have been solid in the pitching department, holding opponents to a .179 batting average, but the team has been hampered by errors this season, allowing nearly five runs per game as a result.

This should be good news for Minnesota, as the Gophers have done a quality job of putting the ball in play in the first part of this year’s season.

Senior outfielder Jennifer Garcia leads Western Illinois with a .391 batting average, but isn’t much of a power threat, as all nine hits have been singles thus far.

Regardless of who Minnesota is playing, the Gophers need to collect more hits if they hope to be successful.

And if they want to start hitting for a stronger average, they will have to start hitting outside pitches to the opposite field, according to senior cleanup hitter Lisa Parks.

“We’ve been seeing a lot of outside pitches and we’re still trying to pull them,” she said. “If we can start taking those pitches the other way instead of pulling them, I think our offensive success will definitely improve.”