Issues in the circle plagued IU softball this weekend on the road against No. 7 Minnesota.
The Golden Gophers blasted two grand slams and five home runs overall in a three-game sweep of the Hoosiers.
IU, 17-21 overall and 3-6 in the Big Ten, was outscored 29-8 during the weekend series.
“We just didn’t have a good weekend in the circle,” IU Coach Michelle Gardner said. “Every once in a while that will happen.”
Sophomore pitchers Emily Kirk and Tara Trainer, IU’s two starting pitchers in the series, walked 14 batters and allowed 24 of the 28 runs scored by Minnesota, which is now 35-3 overall and 8-1 in conference.
Conversely, all three of Minnesota’s starting pitchers threw complete-game victories. Twice, it was senior pitcher and two-time All-American Sara Groenewegen who flummoxed IU.
Groenewegen, who pitches internationally for Canada, struck out seven IU batters in seven innings during Friday night’s 11-6 Minnesota victory. In the first game of a Saturday doubleheader, Groenewegen pitched only five innings in a shortened 10-2 win for the Golden Gophers by mercy rule.
“Sara is one of the best in the country and internationally,” IU senior infielder CaraMia Tsirigos said. “She does a really good job of moving pitches in the zone and getting you to bite on changeups.”
Tsirigos was the lone Hoosier to have consistent success at the plate this weekend.
Tsirigos recorded a hit in every game of the series and was responsible for four of the eight IU RBI against Minnesota. She launched two home runs off Groenewegen Friday night, which included a three-run homer to give IU a 3-0 lead in the third. It was the only point of the series in which IU held a lead.
“I saw the ball well,” Tsirigos said. “She’s one heck of a pitcher, so I tried really hard to hone in on her pitches.”
The offensive performance from Tsirigos was the outlier among IU batters during the weekend.
This sparked a change in the batting order from Gardner for Saturday’s doubleheader.
Freshman utility player Gabbi Jenkins, who had assumed the leadoff spot from junior outfielder Rebecca Blitz on March 3, was switched from hitting leadoff to hitting ninth. This allowed Blitz to move back into the leadoff spot, while freshman utility player Katie Lacefield was moved to the second spot.
The move still allows Jenkins to hit in front of Blitz, which Gardner looked to preserve.
“Gabbi needs to get into the comfort zone again,” Gardner said. “Friday night I didn’t think she was seeing the ball well, so I switched it up.”
The move brought an immediate payoff at the top of IU’s batting order. IU’s first four hitters — Blitz, Lacefield, junior infielder Taylor Uden and Tsirigos — all recorded hits in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader.
IU got just two hits in Saturday’s second game, an 8-0 win in five innings by Minnesota.
With the sweep, IU has now lost five consecutive games and seven of its last eight.
Badly needing to correct this slide, IU will have a midweek opportunity to bounce back against a struggling rival.
IU will be host to Purdue for a Tuesday doubleheader, with the Boilermakers currently on a five-game losing streak after being swept this weekend at Illinois.
“It’s a great opportunity for some good, quality wins,” Gardner said. “I think all of us want to forget about Minnesota.”