After lenghty break in action, Minnesota ready for home opener

The Gophers had eight consecutive games canceled due to weather conditions.

Mark Heise

After missing the last eight games due to weather and unplayable fields, the Minnesota softball team can finally look forward to its home opener.

The Gophers are scheduled to play Purdue at 6 p.m. today and again at noon on Saturday at Jane Sage Cowles Stadium. A doubleheader is scheduled against Indiana on Sunday, beginning at noon.

After eight cancellations, it’s important to add that these games are, of course, weather permitting.

“Oh gosh, don’t even say that. Don’t jinx us,” senior third baseman Mandy Valadez said, looking for wood to knock on after talk of finally being able to step on the field.

That type of caution echoed the thoughts of many players. After nothing but practice for nearly two weeks, a general consensus showed the team missed playing.

“We miss it,” senior outfielder Katie Meyer said. “When you’re out there playing, you take the game for granted, but now that we’ve been cooped up in here, we’re realizing how much we really love playing.”

But one thing the Gophers don’t plan on missing is a step. As senior shortstop Megan Higginbotham said, the intense practice schedule has them staying game-ready.

“We’ve put ourselves in a good situation through practice,” she said. “We’re taking a lot of cuts, seeing some live pitching and working on a lot of situations so when we finally get back to the field, we’ll be ready to go.”

Purdue (19-25-1 overall, 1-4 Big Ten) will almost surely be prepared, with just one of its scheduled games canceled so far this season.

The Boilermakers are coming off a series sweep of Miami Ohio, riding the hot bat of sophomore Katie Mitchell. Mitchell is hitting .378 in 44 games, including nine homeruns and has a team-leading 35 RBI. She and junior Ashley Hall (.345 avg.) will likely need to be shut down for Minnesota (13-14, 0-2) to have success against Purdue.

But pitching is one of the things coach Julie Standering said she has no worries about from her team.

“I feel our pitching staff is in the top four in the conference, if not the best,” she said. “When they start mastering their pitches, which is something we’re starting to see out of them, they’ll be tough to beat.”

Indiana (19-19, 1-5) hasn’t had much success in the Big Ten so far this season, mostly due to opponents hitting a healthy .275 against its pitching.

But the Hoosiers have proven that they can hit with the rest of the conference, as junior Jennilee Huddleston is hitting .368 with 25 RBI, while junior Tory Yamaguchi has powered 11 homers with 25 RBI.

Standering was still cautious, however.

“This is the Big Ten,” she said. “On any day, any team can beat someone they’re maybe not supposed to. I would not take Purdue or Indiana lightly, I think these games are going to come down to who can pick up the key hits.”

Regardless of the results, the weekend should already be a good one for Minnesota, as a team anxious to put last season behind them can finally show that improvement off to its fans.

“That’s the best part,” senior pitcher Rene Konderik said. “I love playing in front of our fans, and I’m excited to show them a completely different team from what they saw last season. I think we’re all ready to do that.”