After what started out as a season filled with optimism, IU softball's fortunes have reversed.
Prior to the start of conference play, IU asserted itself as one of the best teams in the nation, cruising to a program-best 25-6 record and having defeated a pair of top-10 ranked teams.
That part of the season feels like ages ago, since IU now sits at 6-11 in Big Ten play. IU has won just of three of its last 10 games and was swept by Wisconsin last weekend.
As such, the unpredictable IU season trudges on with just six games remaining to find any semblance of consistency.
In what will be IU’s final regular season home series of the season, Rutgers comes to Bloomington in a clash between the sixth and seventh place teams in Big Ten standings.
Owners of a 24-20 overall record, Rutgers started the season off slow but has since gained significant momentum with an 8-2 record in its last ten games.
Rutgers ranks poorly in numerous Big Ten categories. Through 17 conference games, Rutgers’ .208 batting average, 83 hits and 33 walks are all second-worst in the Big Ten, with only Iowa having worse numbers.
Rutgers doesn’t fare much better in the pitching circle either, with a 3.62 earned run average and just 149 strikeouts as a staff. IU senior Tara Trainer has struck out 200 batters by herself this season.
A pair of infield standouts represent the Scarlet Knights’ recipe for success this weekend.
Freshman catcher Katie Wingert and senior infielder Jess Hughes have produced All-Big Ten caliber numbers thus far. Wingert’s 15 home runs are good for second in the Big Ten, while Hughes’ .356 batting average leads Rutgers and her 20 steals rank fourth-best in conference.
It will be imperative for IU’s offense to have a better showing against Rutgers than it did last weekend when it struggled against Wisconsin.
IU sophomores Grayson Radcliffe and Maddie Westmoreland continue to be the team's hottest hitters, but it’s the bottom of the order that has struggled with run production. Juniors Annika Baez and Katie Lacefield need to have big weekends for IU's offense to rebound.
Limiting free bases is also likely be a key focal point for IU pitching as Trainer’s 42 walks are the most in conference games this season.
With the postseason right around the corner, this weekend's results will be extremely telling for IU’s NCAA tournament hopes.
“I expect our ballclub to really fight this weekend,” IU Head Coach Shonda Stanton said. “That’s all I really want from this group, to continue to bring their bats, continue to fight often.”
First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m. Saturday night.
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