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Tough road for softball

BY CHARLIE GREEN | MAY 06, 2015 5:00 AM

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Heading into the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday in Columbus, Ohio, there’s both good and bad news for the Iowa softball team.

The good: There are just two conference teams ranked in the top 30 nationally in terms of RPI.

The bad: Iowa is 7-10 against the teams that aren’t.

The two highest ranked teams are No. 5 Michigan and No. 15 Minnesota. The Hawks took one of three from the Wolverines in a late-March series and were swept by the Gophers in a series that ended on April 26.

Iowa enters as the 10th seed and will battle No. 7 Rutgers on Thursday, a winnable matchup for the Hawks.

But if they indeed do pull out a win over the Scarlet Knights, more dangerous opponents loom in the rounds to follow.

Michigan
Record: 48-6 (21-2)
Record against Iowa: 2-1

The Wolverines finished first in the conference at 21-2, 48-6 overall. Their ERA on the season is 1.51, far and away the best in the Big Ten. The team has two legitimate aces in sophomore Megan Betsa (24-4) and senior Haylie Wagner (20-2), two of the league’s top three hurlers in terms of ERA.

Michigan’s offense ranks third in average (.339) and first in slugging (.623), runs  (439), and on-base percentage (.458). It also leads in home runs with 101 and RBIs with 409.

The offensive attack is led by junior shortstop Sierra Romero, whose .463 batting average leads the league. She is also slugging .933.

As a team, Michigan is also tops in fielding percentage at .975. Quite simply, it is the most well-rounded squad in the tournament.

Minnesota
Record: 46-8 (20-3)
Record against Iowa: 3-0

The Gophers dominated the Hawkeyes in their regular-season showdown, winning the three games by a combined 25-0.

Their pitching is stellar, with three solid options from the circle in sophomore Sara Groenewegen (28-4), junior Nikki Anderson (10-2), and freshman Kylie Stober (8-2); all three rank in the conference’s top seven in ERA.

The team also boasts the top batting average, hitting .346, and leading the Big Ten in hits, doubles, and triples.

If they carry the same dynamic and balanced attack into the tournament that they showed against Iowa, they have a legitimate shot the win the whole thing.

Nebraska
Record: 32-20 (17-6)
Record against Iowa: (2-0)

The most overlooked team in the tournament may well be the third-seeded Cornhuskers. The team got off to a 15-14 start to the season, but in Big Ten play, it has proven to be dangerous — especially on offense.

Junior Kiki Stokes and sophomore MJ Knighten are two of the league’s best hitters. Both are hitting more than .400, and Knighten has tallied 76 hits on the year, good for tops in the conference.

In addition to them, senior Steph Pasquale is hitting .373 and junior Alicia Armstrong .365.

Nebraska is deep as they come in the batter’s box.

Where the team may run into trouble deep in the tourney is with its suspect pitching and inconsistent fielding, each of which rank middle of the pack in the Big Ten.

If the Huskers go far in the postseason, it will be because their offense took them there.

Northwestern
Record: 27-20 (14-8)
Record against Iowa: 2-1

The Wildcats come into the tournament seeded fourth, and they are the third-best Big Ten team in the national RPI rankings at No. 35.

Freshman Sabrina Rabin leads the way for the team offensively. The speedster is hitting .411 but has only three extra base hits on the year. When she gets on base, she poses a constant threat to run. Rabin is 27-for-31 on stolen base attempts in 2015 and might get more infield singles than anyone because of her speed.

Senior Andrea DiPrima and junior Andrea Filler are both batting just under .400, giving the Cats solid depth offensively. There is a bit of a drop-off after those three, however — as a team, it bats .316.

Northwestern’s pitching is mediocre and problematic when comparing it with the staffs of Minnesota and Michigan. As far as ERA goes, its ranks sixth in the Big Ten at 4.88.

Basically, this team’s offense allows it to beat the average and below-average teams of the Big Ten. But other than having a few great hitters, it lacks the thorough offensive attack of Nebraska and the pitching prowess of Michigan and Minnesota and appears to stand at the forefront of the dropoff between the conference’s top teams and everybody else.

Against Minnesota and Nebraska, the Wildcats went 1-4 in the regular season; they had the benefit of not having Michigan on their schedule.


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