IU softball enters this weekend as one of five undefeated NCAA teams remaining.
The Hoosiers rose to No. 16 in USA Today and NFCA Coaches Top 25 rankings following their perfect five-game road trip to Macon, Georgia last weekend.
While the Orange and Black classic posed IU with stiff competition such as Loyola University Chicago, this upcoming three-day stay in Baton Rouge, Louisiana presents perhaps the most difficult group of competition it's seen all season.
Taking part in the Purple and Gold Challenge will be No. 10 Louisiana State University, University of South Carolina Upstate, Stephen F. Austin University, Illinois State University and IU.
Friday’s first two games are against an 11-win Stephen F. Austin squad and a top-ten LSU team.
The Lumberjacks come into this weekend having outscored their opponents 75-48, bringing with them a .310 team batting average and seven players with at least one home run this season.
LSU, which already has three wins against ranked opponents, will be the toughest team IU has faced since Feb. 10, when it defeated then-No. 6 University of Georgia.
“If we lose, it won’t be a matter of them not being focused or prepared,” IU Head Coach Shonda Stanton said.
The Saturday slate doesn’t get any easier for IU as it takes on USC Upstate, 10-1 this season, at 1 p.m. followed by a game against the Illinois State Redbirds.
USC Upstate’s pitching staff has been lights out thus far, limiting opponents to a .133 batting average and only three home runs.
Meanwhile, the Redbirds have only mustered three wins this season, but in the 15 games they’ve played, seven of them came against ranked foes. Senior infielder Allison Spence and freshman infielder Emme Olson are names to watch in the heart of the Illinois State batting order.
Rounding out the 5-game weekend is an early matchup at 10 a.m. Sunday against Illinois State again.
“We don’t have a bunch off All-Americans, and we don’t have a bunch of kids leading the country in RBIs, but we get RBI’s in big moments,” said Stanton.
And those timely RBIs are going to need to carry over if IU wants to leave Baton Rouge unscathed. If they can do that, the Hoosiers have a very good shot of entering their home opener next Tuesday still undefeated.
“This is what you dream about coming into this program, turning it around,” sophomore infielder Camryn Woodall said. “We’ve exceeded our expectations.”
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