Just weeks ago, most NCAA softball experts had IU comfortably penciled in to make the NCAA tournament field. However, its recent shaky play has IU moving in the wrong direction.
For a team that was once ranked as high as No. 19 and playing some of the best softball in the nation, IU has since been swept by Ohio State, which is ranked below IU in the Rating Percentage Index, and was defeated by a Purdue team that’s not currently slated to make the NCAA tournament.
With only four series left before the Big Ten tournament begins, IU has dug itself into a hole with little room for error. Three of the four teams left on IU’s schedule are ranked below it in the RPI, meaning a series loss to any one of those teams could be detrimental to its tournament resume.
IU has a chance to get back on the right foot as it plays Maryland this weekend in a three-game set.
Maryland travels to Bloomington having lost its last two games and is in 11th place in the Big Ten standings. While the Terrapins did have success in non-conference play putting together a 16-12 record, they have has since stumbled to 2-7 in conference play and just 3-8 on the road.
The numbers don’t bode well for Maryland’s chances this weekend either as its 9.21 earned run average in Big Ten play ranks last, and its 24 strikeouts thrown in Big Ten play is only better than Rutgers. The staff has also allowed 100 hits through just nine conference games.
If the Terrapins stand any chance at Andy Mohr Field this weekend, they will have to be with its bats. Though the team lacks significant power, as seen by its three home runs in conference play, it has accrued a .295 batting average, which is sixth in the Big Ten. Maryland isn’t much of a threat on the basepaths either as it has only stolen 33 bases as team this season.
Maryland’s lineup is powered by a pair of infielders in Sammie Stefan and Anna Kufta. The duo are tied for the team lead in home runs with five, and rank first and second on the team in runs batted in, driving in a combined 64 runs.
Facing one of the weaker lineups its seen all year, IU Head Coach Shonda Stanton could choose to give her top two starting pitchers, senior Tara Trainer and junior Emily Goodin, some much needed rest. While Trainer or Goodin will most likely get the starting nod in all three games, freshman Natalie Foor and junior Josie Wood could see more action if IU can pull away early.
Whether it's getting all nine hitters in the lineup involved, making smart baserunning decision, or pitching better, this upcoming matchup with Maryland will be extremely telling for how the rest of IU’s season will play out.
It’s simple: Win and the Hoosiers are that much closer to its first NCAA tournament berth in years, but lose and the tournament bubble nears a dangerous spot.
“There’s some things I really think we can build off of,” Stanton said. “We’ll regroup, have a couple of good practices, and we look forward to getting back at it against Maryland on Friday night.”
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