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Softball travels to Minnesota for tough series

BY CHARLIE GREEN | APRIL 24, 2015 5:00 AM

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Iowa softball is scheduled to take on one of the top pitching teams in the nation beginning today as they battle No. 12 Minnesota in Minneapolis in a three-game series.

The Hawks (16-34, 7-10) are ninth in the Big Ten. Minnesota (38-8, 12-3) enters the weekend second, with only Michigan in front of it.

The Gophers’ staff leads the conference in fewest walks allowed. With just 92, they are the only team in the league that has not yet surpassed 100 on the season.

The team has also struck out league-leading 363 batters.

“I think they are pretty comparable to Missouri,” senior Megan Blank said. “So having that midweek game [on Wednesday] was definitely good preparation coming into this weekend.”

Sophomore Sara Groenewegen — an ace in every sense of the word — leads Minnesota. With a record of 23-4, she is second in the Big Ten in ERA (1.68) and first in strikeouts (267).

Although she has logged 170.1 innings thus far, she has only recorded 53 walks.

Minnesota’s options from the circle aren’t bad, either. Freshman Kylie Stober is 8-2 with a 3.46 ERA, and junior teammate Nikki Anderson stands at 7-2 with an ERA of 3.85.

In terms of ERA, all three are better than Iowa’s No. 1 option — sophomore Shayla Starkenburg.

While Starkenburg has enjoyed increased success in April (sans her 7 walks and 9 hits in 5.1 innings on Wednesday), Iowa’s offense will need to take advantage of opportunities to get runners across the plate.

Blank is red-hot coming into the bout with Minnesota. In her last three games, she is 5-for-7 at the plate and has blasted 2 home runs. She now ranks second in the Big Ten with a batting average of .450.

But it will take more than the three-time All Big Ten selection to push the Hawks through a deadly arsenal of effective pitchers. Sophomores Sammi Gyerman and Kaitlyn Mullarkey have struggled recently, but two of the team’s best offensive players will need to find ways to get on base or advance runners.

Minnesota has proven to be a hard team to steal on throughout the season, and Iowa is last in the Big Ten and steals and attempts.

The Hawks are going to have to get hits to win this game, and at least put the ball in play with runners in scoring position.

Minnesota leads the Big Ten in batting average (.346) and ranks second in slugging (.592) and on-base percentage (.444).

Limiting errors and making plays in the field figure to play key roles if Iowa is to have success.

“If we make adjustments early in the game and continue to play solid defense, we will be successful,” junior Erin Erickson said.

The Gophers are a well-rounded team, and it’s going to take a balanced attack for the Hawks to come out of the series feeling good about their standing in the Big Ten.

“Our defense has been strong lately,” Blank said. “So maintaining that aspect of the game will give us a good chance this weekend.”

Follow @CharlsGreen on Twitter for news, updates, and analysis about the Iowa softball team.


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