IU plays host to Maryland in crucial conference series
IU Coach Michelle Gardner has said several times her team is better than its 19-25 record indicates.
Lately, the Hoosiers are proving her correct.
After a five-game conference losing streak from April 1 to April 8, the Hoosiers have raised their level of play.
IU recorded its first ranked win in more than four years last weekend against then-No. 25 Ohio State and stayed competitive Wednesday in a home loss to No. 20 Kentucky.
However, IU’s improvements will have mean nothing if they don’t put them to use this weekend during a three-game home series against Maryland.
“We’ve come out and competed,” Gardner said. “I want to come out and compete again this weekend, and we’ll be successful.”
With a 9-30-1 overall record, Maryland is the only Big Ten team without at least 10 wins this season. The conference records between the Hoosiers and Terrapins are more comparable, though.
IU’s 5-9 mark in Big Ten play is only three wins better than the 2-10 record put up by Maryland, which is tied for last in the conference with Rutgers.
Two of IU’s five conference wins came at home against Rutgers, and the Hoosiers will again look to take advantage of being host to one of the conference’s weaker teams.
“I think it’s an important series, but it’s not any more important than other games we’ve played,” IU junior outfielder Rebecca Blitz said. “We’re relaxed and ready to go.”
Despite its less-than-impressive résumé, Maryland has had several high points this season. Victories at then-No. 1 Florida in the Aquafina Invitational and at then-No. 24 Missouri punctuated a 7-20-1 nonconference season.
In Big Ten play, both of Maryland’s wins were a surprise — at Northwestern and at home against then-No. 18 Michigan. Both conference wins have come in the Terrapins’ last four games.
“They’ve shown they can beat anyone,” Blitz said. “We just have to go in and compete as if they are anybody else.”
Like Rutgers, Maryland still finds itself on the outside looking in regarding the Big Ten Tournament. Of the 14 Big Ten teams, only the top 12 qualify for the end-of-year event.
Winning the series against Maryland would go a long way toward locking IU, currently 10th in the Big Ten, into the tournament.
To do so, IU will have to quiet the bats of a trio of .300 hitters for Maryland.
Freshman outfielder Amanda Brashear, freshman infielder Anna Kufta and senior infielder Juli Strange have combined for more than half of Maryland’s 115 runs this season. Brashear will pose an especially tough task for the IU pitching staff because she averages a hit game.
The IU pitching rotation has been reduced to only two pitchers in recent games. In seven of the last eight IU games, sophomores Emily Kirk and Tara Trainer appeared as the only IU pitchers.
On offense, IU has still found it hard to put runs on the board. The hits are coming for IU, and in particular from Blitz, who continues to take turns batting leadoff with freshman utility player Gabbi Jenkins.
The series also marks the end of a four-game homestand for IU, which Blitz said the team needs to take advantage of.
“It’s nice because you know your dirt, you know your grass, you know your fence,” Blitz said. “We all feel comfortable and are needing this little rest at home.”
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