Plagued by bad weather, Minn. trying to get in games

With seven of its past 11 games canceled because of inclement weather, the Minnesota softball team has had plenty of practice time to go along with sparse competition. And for a team that had been on a 10-0 tear before the first of the cancellations...
By
  • Mark Heise
March 28, 2008

With seven of its past 11 games canceled because of inclement weather, the Minnesota softball team has had plenty of practice time to go along with sparse competition.

And for a team that had been on a 10-0 tear before the first of the cancellations, a lack of playing time can be tough.

The Gophers will likely be tested this weekend, as they open up their Big Ten schedule, traveling to Michigan State for games at 4 p.m. Friday and noon on Saturday before heading to Northwestern for a doubleheader on Sunday, also beginning at noon.

Despite patches of snow still on the ground at home, senior outfielder Sila Fernandez said that Minnesota is at least optimistic about the idea of playing games again.

"There's no reason to be pessimistic about the weather until someone tells us it's canceled," she said. "In our minds, we think we're going to play until someone tells us different."

But coach Lisa Bernstein wasn't quite as positive.

"The weather forecast is a little suspect," she said. "But that's the nature of the beast. We're going there expecting to play, but it's not the ideal situation."

Should Minnesota get the games in this weekend, it would face off against some tough competition right off the bat.

Northwestern finished second in the conference last season with a 15-3 record, less than a game behind Ohio State, while Michigan State finished three spots ahead of the 10th-place Gophers in the standings, and are expected to be improved this season.

The Spartans hold a team batting average of .283 while exploding for 14 home runs so far this season, riding junior utility player Gina Mondo's .393 average and 12 extra-base hits.

The Gophers hold a distinct advantage defensively however, as Michigan State's four pitchers are not on par with Minnesota's right-handed tandem.

The Spartans held a nine-game losing streak at one point this season, but bounced back to win 10 of their past 14 games.

But the conference season is a whole different atmosphere, and with the extra practice time, freshman Brianna Sudenga said maybe Minnesota held an advantage early in conference play.

"We've had a lot of time to hone our skills a little bit," she said. "Getting into (the field house) and getting extra practice in probably has us more game-ready than we would have been."

Northwestern brings new challenges to the field, as it boasts one player hitting over .500 in 71 at bats this season.

Junior infielder Tammy Williams leads the Wildcats offensively, hitting .535 with a .775 slugging percentage.

That, combined with the .180 batting average Northwestern pitchers have allowed so far this season, could cause problems for the Gophers.

The Wildcats are on a bit of a cold streak however, having lost six of their past seven games. Considering that, it may be as good a time as any to face such a potent team.

Fernandez said a successful weekend would help Minnesota make a statement.

"We want to show that Minnesota is here to compete," she said. "Teams need to start looking at us as a threat, and with a solid weekend here, I think we can make that happen."

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