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IU softball faces first challenge of the season at Wildcat Invitational

<p>Then-freshman IU softball outfielder Taylor Lambert gets tagged out at the plate as she attempts to put IU&#x27;s first points on the board April 18, 2018. IU will compete in the Wildcat Invitational on March 6-8 in Tucson, Arizona. </p>

Then-freshman IU softball outfielder Taylor Lambert gets tagged out at the plate as she attempts to put IU's first points on the board April 18, 2018. IU will compete in the Wildcat Invitational on March 6-8 in Tucson, Arizona.

IU softball will face its toughest competition of the year this weekend when it heads to Tucson, Arizona, for the Wildcat Invitational.

The team will start the weekend at noon Friday against Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and will play the University of South Dakota immediately after. Saturday’s doubleheader will start at 11 a.m. against Boise State University and end with a rematch against South Dakota.

On Sunday, IU will face No. 4 University of Arizona at its home field. It’s the first game against a ranked opponent for IU this season, but IU head coach Shonda Stanton said she doesn’t want to emphasize it over the other games.

“We focus on the first opponent, and that’s all we do,” Stanton said. “Game one, inning one, pitch one.”

Arizona lost 5-4 to the USA Softball Women’s National Team on Feb. 18. The game was part of the “Stand Behind Her” tour, helping the Women’s National Team train for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Arizona played the closest game of the tour so far.

“They can rake,” Stanton said. “They can do a lot of things well. And they’re going to have a great crowd, so that’s going to be fun for our athletes.”

One of the keys to the Hoosiers’ weekend is finding offensive production similar to the Fairfield Crabtree Invitational, when they scored 27 runs over four games. IU had only scored 28 runs over its previous nine games, including a 10-run output against St. John’s University on Feb. 8. 

“We finally executed a game plan,” Stanton. “Coach Bell does an excellent job of putting our game plan together. When you know what’s coming, you just have to pull the trigger.”

Junior Grayson Radcliffe was part of that execution for IU, hitting three home runs and adding eight runs batted in. 

Radcliffe said associate coach Chanda Bell’s scouting reports helped her prepare for each at-bat at the Fairfield Crabtree Invitational. She said she prepared for this weekend the same way, scouting each pitcher so she has a plan at the plate.

Stanton said she needs to get more out of her pitchers. In the Fairfield Crabtree Invitational, senior Emily Goodin threw every inning for IU. The three other IU pitchers have only thrown 13 innings combined all season, and each one has an earned run average above 15.

“They’ve got to stay the course and understand they’re climbing a mountain,” Stanton said. “It’s not straight up, but eventually they’re going to get to the top of that hill.”

Stanton said Arizona’s Rita Hillenbrand Memorial Stadium is a home run ballpark because of the thin air, so IU needs to limit the amount of free outs it gives to opponents. 

“You have to take care of the ball,” Stanton said. “If you’re extending an inning and giving a team four or five outs, now you’re giving them an opportunity to get the big hit.”

Radcliffe said IU needs to put its hitting and pitching together for the team to win games.

“Our team is capable of so much,” Radcliffe said. “When you prove that, it just shows that team 47 is capable of so much, and we’re going to go far this year.”

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