For the Drake softball team, one fraction is in the forefront: two-thirds.
The 2012 campaign is two-thirds completed.
Winning two of three games every weekend is atop Drake’s to-do list.
“Coach (Rich) Calvert talked about today that on the weekends we want to take two out of three games, and I think we need to continue working towards that,” said senior outfielder Jaimie Duffek.
Meshing offense and defense is key entering this weekend’s MVC showdown against Illinois State.
“I think we just need to work on having our offense and our defense work together,” Duffek said.
Drake stalled offensively and defensively against Northern Iowa last weekend to drop the Cedar Falls series, 3-0.
Despite Panther-focused practices, Northern Iowa’s pitching surprised Drake’s offense.
“It’s probably the best pitching that we’ve seen thus far,” Duffek said.
The Panthers opened Friday’s double-header with a defensive bang, limiting Drake to just one run en route to a 5-1 victory.
Freshman Hayley Nybo notched Drake’s lone run in the sixth inning with an RBI single to plate sophomore Nicole Randel.
Northern Iowa’s Mackenzie Daigh, the MVC’s leading hitter, didn’t disappoint. Daigh’s third inning run sparked UNI’s offensive drive.
One inning later, the Panthers’ Whitney Plein tacked a two-run homer on the scoreboard, giving Northern Iowa a 3-0 advantage.
UNI’s offensive drive wasn’t finished just yet, though.
The Panthers powered two runs in the fifth inning thanks to a two-RBI single.
Northern Iowa finished game one with key defensive stops down the stretch.
After dropping game one, the Bulldogs refocused with retaliation in mind.
“For the second game, we were pretty prepared going into it knowing that we were going to see an equally good pitcher as the first game,” Duffek said.
Duffek started game two with an RBI groundout to plate sophomore pitcher Jordan Gronewold, giving Drake an early 1-0 lead.
Northern Iowa answered with a sacrifice fly in the fourth inning, evening the scoreboard at one run apiece.
Plein powered an RBI double in the sixth inning to secure UNI’s 2-1 lead.
Gronewold retaliated with a seventh inning run, again leveling the score at 2-2.
Gina Brown blasted UNI’s game-winning run, sealing Northern Iowa’s series victory, 3-2.
Despite Friday’s double-header defeat, Duffek applauded her team’s tenacity.
“It was just hard losing a one run game,” she said. “Those are always difficult, but I think the fact that we fought and really thought we were going to pull it through and then at the last minute kind of lost, it was really difficult, but we never gave up, and I think that’s what I love most about this team.”
Northern Iowa capped the series with Saturday’s 11-2 game three rout.
Tuesday marked Drake’s second in-state showdown in just five days.
This time, though, the Bulldogs earned a Big Four victory, dispatching Iowa State 8-6 at Ron Buel Field.
Tuesday’s win improved Drake to 16-19 overall and 8-4 in MVC play.
Drake takes on MVC rival Illinois State this weekend in Normal, Ill.
The No. 5 Redbirds are just one MVC berth behind the Bulldogs, and Duffek anticipates another competitive contest.
“Again, we’re going to see some good pitching,” she said. “We’re going to see some good hitting. They are definitely a good team all around.”
Despite Illinois State’s versatile game, Drake’s all around improvement is promising.
“I think they’re going to give us a run for our money, but as long as we stick together and play well and we have our defense going for us as well as our offense, I think we can put up some good numbers against them,” Duffek said.
With only four weekends of MVC regular season play remaining, taking this weekend’s series is critical for Drake.
“I know that they’re pitching is going to be tough, and we’re going to have to play solid defense because we want to stay near the top of the conference,” Nybo said. “These next few weekends are going to be the tougher weekends of conference play.”
The State Farm MVC Championship is just one month away, but Drake isn’t finished improving yet.
“We don’t want to have our peak yet,” Nybo said. “We want to peak during conference tournament, and we started off strong, so we want to finish strong.”
The Bulldogs take on Illinois State at 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturday. Sunday’s game is set for 12 p.m.