In a season full of rain delays and hectic travel schedules, the Minnesota softball team seems content to be staying home.
After enduring long road trips for seven of the first eight weeks of the season, the Gophers will remain home for the second weekend in a row, hosting Penn State and Michigan to conclude a 14-day hiatus from travel.
"I think September was the last time I was home for two weekends in a row," coach Lisa Bernstein joked.
Minnesota (21-10 overall, 4-2 Big Ten) will try to get games in with Penn State at 6 p.m. Friday and noon Saturday, despite unpromising forecasts, and will face off against No. 6 Michigan in a doubleheader at noon Sunday.
And unlike the home opener last weekend, the Gophers actually had an opportunity to practice on the field earlier this week, taking a much-needed break from the rubbery field house surface.
"We get true hops out here instead of the hops from a rubber ball on a rubber field," freshman Brianna Sudenga said. "It's also nice to be out in the fresh air for once."
An opportunity to get used to a field generally leads to improved defense, which the Gophers may need with Michigan coming in.
The Wolverines have won 12 of their last 13 games and are coming in to the weekend hitting at a .296 clip with 28 home runs.
Michigan (34-4, 7-1) used some of that power to top Minnesota at a tournament earlier this season, homering once and collecting a pair of doubles in a 7-2 win.
The Gophers collected just four hits but still managed to manufacture runs, which will be an important part to their success, should they be able to upset the Wolverines.
Senior outfielder Colleen Powers said she considered the team's ability to play small ball an advantage over Michigan's powerful squad.
"Our aggressiveness on the base-paths should be an advantage," she said. "As long as we don't come out and play on our heels, we should be fine."
With four players batting over .310 for the Gophers, Minnesota has proven it can keep up offensively with a lot of teams.
The Gophers also match the Wolverines in the number of players with home runs this season, but when it comes to power, Michigan still holds all the cards.
The Wolverines' slugging percentage of .431 is 66 points higher than Minnesota's, meaning pitching will have to play just as big a factor if the Gophers are to come away with wins.
But that's not something Bernstein said she was concerned with, considering such strong starts from junior pitchers Briana Hassett and Katie Dalen. Bernstein instead talked more about the offense.
"We're more concerned with slowing the game down and taking one pitch at a time," she said. "If we can put the ball in play and make good things happen, we'll be in good shape."
Before the Michigan matchup, the Gophers will face Penn State in a two-day series.
The Nittany Lions (27-14, 3-5) are going through a bit of a rough patch, spoiling a previous 11-game win streak by losing three of their last four games.
Penn State's success revolves around the success of its pitching staff, which has done well so far this season.
The four pitchers getting work have combined for a 1.64 season ERA, while opposing pitchers have allowed more than four runs when facing the Nittany Lions.
However, the same pitching staff has struggled in conference play, allowing a 3.75 ERA in eight games so far, which stands to benefit Minnesota.
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