The Land of Lincoln will be the travel spot for the Minnesota softball team this weekend.
The fifth-place Gophers (30-13-1, 6-4 Big Ten) face Illinois on Friday and Saturday, and then go to Northwestern for a doubleheader on Sunday. These will be the final Big Ten road games for Minnesota.
The competition this weekend will demonstrate the tough middle of the pack teams the Big Ten has to offer as the Gophers face the third ranked Illini (29-8, 7-3) record and sixth ranked Wildcats (24-12, 6-6).
"They are both good ball clubs with good coaching and a lot of speed and power," co-head coach Julie Standering said.
The weather might be the biggest opposing force in all of the games this weekend. Thunderstorms are predicted in Champaign-Urbana on Saturday and in Evanston on Sunday.
Focusing on the competition Illinois and Northwestern have to offer doesn't bring too much worry to the Minnesota side.
The Illini will rely on power hitting from Rachelle Coriddi and Erin Montgomery. Coriddi leads Illinois behind the plate with a .352 batting average. Montgomery holds the top slugging percentage for the Illini at .602.
In the circle, the Gophers will face Amanda Fortune who holds a 21-5 record.
The Illini are also riding a seven-game winning streak which helps keep momentum on their side.
Going in facing a better ranked team on a hot streak like Illinois' might seem difficult to deal with, but the Gophers are going in with one major focus.
"Our number one goal is staying together as a team," Standering said.
On the Wildcats side are Courtnay Foster in the circle and Brett Nakabayshi behind the plate.
Foster has struck out 164 batters this season and Nakabayshi has a .364 batting average.
Though both teams offer power hitters and ace pitching, Minnesota's roster has similar, if not better, staffing.
Pitching is one of the Gopher's most noticeable strengths. Piper Marten, Angie Recknor and Lyn Peyer all offer different pitching styles that can be relied on if changes are necessary.
Smacking big hits for the Gophers this season have been Jordanne Nygren, Hailee Nanchy and Veronica Roberts.
Nygren leads the Big Ten with 13 home runs this season and has the Gopher's highest batting average at .382.
Nanchy has 13 doubles on 42 hits this season and Roberts has 45 hits with five doubles and two triples.
"We're looking for consistency form these players," Standering said. "The have the same kind of approach as they would with any other game and the products will be different depending on the circumstances of the game."
The Gophers are planning on focusing on what they know how to do.
Pitching, defense, their short game - things Minnesota usually takes care of - as well as stringing together back to back hits and capitalizing on opponents errors will be the Gophers' strategy this weekend.
Sam Campanaro covers softball and
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