Iowa's pitcher Shayla Starkenburg winds up during the first game of the Iowa-Illinois match up on March 26, 2017. Illinois defeated Iowa 5-2 to win the first game. (The Daily Iowan/Osama Khalid)

Softball faces a huge challenge

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By jacob miller

jacob-s-miller@uiowa.edu

The greatest challenge for the Iowa softball team this season will be its three-game series against No. 5 Minnesota in Minneapolis this weekend.

The Gophers were the 2016 Big Ten Tournament champions, and they are on the path to repeat, 40-3 overall, 13-1
in the Big Ten.

“Minnesota is a great ball club,” head coach Marla Looper said. “They’re leading the conference right now, and they’re not easily beat, but I do feel we have an opportunity to go up and take one from them. It’s going to take us doing the little things right all the time and eliminating a lot of extra free passes for them and extra outs, because they’re going to take the extra outs and take advantage of them.”

On Wednesday, the Gophers had an exciting double-header matchup against Wisconsin in Madison. Minnesota missed out on many opportunities to score early on in the first game, and the Badgers held their own, forcing it into extra innings.

It took the Gophers until the 12th inning to get their bats going, and they scored 6 runs to win the game. Another major factor in their win was a dominant performance by senior Sara Groenewegen, who pitched all 12 innings and had 15 strikeouts in the shutout victory. She leads the Big Ten with an ERA of 0.57 in 22 games in the circle.

In the second game, Minnesota was clearly ready to go home and scored 12 runs by the fifth inning to end the game in five, 12-1. Iowa may have a hard time slowing the Gophers down, but as with Minnesota, momentum is on the Hawkeyes’ side.

“I think that it is awesome that we are now getting into a roll, because we were kind of off to a slow start, but now that we have beat a lot of teams, I think we can go out strong against Minnesota,” freshman Havyn Monteer said.

Minnesota is perfect at home so far this season. The Gophers also lead the Big Ten in pitching with an average ERA at 1.29 and in team batting average at .347.

Minnesota is lethal in all aspects of the game, meaning opponents cannot make any errors to have a chance at winning. Luckily for the Hawkeyes, their defense makes few errors, in large part thanks to dominate pitching by redshirt senior Shayla Starkenburg, which was on display Tuesday in the Iowa win against Iowa State, especially in the final at-bat.

“We always have to give the crowd a little excitement at the end,” Starkenburg said. “I threw a curve ball that was pretty good on the hands. She got a little piece of it, that was that first little blooper there, and then that bunt we just could not field it quick enough, but our defense stayed positive and calm the whole time, and we were able to get out of it.”

It will be an uphill battle for the Hawkeyes, but if they keep their level-headed and consistent-play approach, then they might be able to steal one game from Minnesota. Iowa could do the nearly impossible by delivering the Gophers their first home loss of the season.

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