Minnesota trying to bounce back with midweek wins

Daily File Photo

Marija Majerle

Daily File Photo

After a solid start to the Big Ten season with a 3-1 record in road games at Indiana and Purdue, the Minnesota softball team nearly picked up two more wins this past weekend against No. 17 Ohio State. But âÄúnearlyâÄù was not enough for the Gophers in their first games in Jane Sage Cowles Stadium, as the Buckeyes nabbed two 1-0 victories against Minnesota (20-21 overall, 3-3 Big Ten) to dampen its homecoming. The Gophers newest tough task comes to town in No. 8 Northwestern (22-7, 8-0) on Wednesday for a double-header at 2:00 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. MinnesotaâÄôs senior pitcher Briana Hassett said her team looks at the success of Northwestern this season as a good mark to shoot for, as Southern schools often dominate the national softball rankings. âÄúWeâÄôre trying to get some of the Northern states on the map for softball,âÄù Hassett said. âÄúNorthwestern has done a great job of cracking the top 10.âÄù The Gophers received two more solid outings from Hassett over the weekend to try and overcome a higher ranked Ohio State squad, but MinnesotaâÄôs offense was unable to do its part as Hassett picked up the two losses. âÄúEveryone was disappointed that we didnâÄôt put up the offensive numbers that we would like to see,âÄù senior third baseman Colleen Conway said. âÄúWe felt bad that we couldnâÄôt produce even one run for [Hassett].âÄù Hassett (19-14) increased her NCAA Division I-leading strikeout total to 309 this season by fanning 10 Buckeyes batters in the first game, and following with eight more strikeouts in the nightcap. The senior hurler is now just three strikeouts short of establishing a new Minnesota school record for strikeouts in a season, currently held by the Gophers pitching coach Piper Marten. Minnesota canâÄôt expect a much better double-header pitching performance against the Wildcats on Wednesday, who lead the Big Ten in hitting with a team batting average of .299. NorthwesternâÄôs offense is led by senior shortstop Tammy Williams, atop the conference in batting with a sizzling .495 average. She is also first in the Big Ten in total bases, second in hits and runs scored, tied for second in home runs and third in doubles But Williams did not just jump onto the scene this season, as last year she broke NorthwesternâÄôs single-season records for batting average (.440) and on-base percentage (.538) en route to being named first-team NFCA All-American, the Big Ten Player of the Year and also one of 10 finalists for USA Softball Player of the Year. âÄúEach team in the Big Ten has at least one or two really good hitters,âÄù Conway said. âÄúThis week we want to keep Tammy Williams off the base paths.âÄù Northwestern has also claimed five Big Ten Player of the Week awards this season. On April 6 Wildcats junior Nicole Pauly obtained the honor, batting .875 in four games during the previous week, compiling a .917 on-base percentage with a 2.125 slugging percentage. Only once in four games did she fail to reach base, going 7-for-8 with three home runs, a double, three walks and a hit by pitch. Even if Hassett is at her best, the GophersâÄô offense will need to produce more on Wednesday than it did on Saturday to stay with the No. 8 team in the nation. âÄúDefensively, if we back up Briana, our offense will come along,âÄù Conway said.