Photos: Taylor Soule
After winning two out of three games over Missouri State last weekend, Drake is eager to notch another Missouri Valley Conference series win this weekend.
Toppling in-state rival Northern Iowa is atop the Bulldogs’ to-do list.
Before checking UNI off their list, though, the Bulldogs aim to improve defensively.
For sophomore pitcher Jordan Gronewold, last weekend’s slow start prompted this week’s defensive spotlight. With softball basics in mind, Drake maintained its usual practice routine.
“We’ll just focus on maybe more defensive stuff,” she said. “Our defense seemed a little sluggish (last weekend), so probably focus more on that and just the usual fundamentals.”
Against the MVC’s top team, Drake can’t afford another shaky start.
At 24-9 overall and 9-0 in conference play, the Panthers showcase strong offense and defense.
Senior Mackenzie Daigh spearheads UNI’s offense with 46 hits this season, ranking first in the MVC.
On the defensive front, Northern Iowa leads the MVC in strikeouts with 194 this season.
“They’ll definitely bring great offense,” Gronewold said. “They have some pretty good hitters, and I feel like their defense is pretty solid, too. They’re just an overall solid team, so we’ll have to play to their level, play our game.”
Against Northern Iowa’s versatile game, Drake must combine strong defense, strong offense and strong pitching.
“All three aspects need to come together,” Gronewold said. “Pitching, defense and the offensive part of it, and we’ll be good.”
En route to strong play, confidence is key for Gronewold.
“They’re leading the conference right now for wins, so we need to go in there, be confident and play our game because we know we can win if we play our best ball,” she said.
After 2012’s rocky start, Drake’s progress is promising for freshman pitcher Rebekah Schmidt.
“We’re 8-1 (in MVC play) right now, and we’re pretty confident in conference,” she said. “We’re doing pretty well, and we’re getting going. We had a slow start this season, but we got going through midseason.”
Despite this weekend’s tall task, Schmidt is confident entering Friday’s MVC showdown. After four days of practice, improved defense is Drake’s focus entering Friday’s series opener.
“We just need to play really tight defense,” she said. “I think hitting will take care of itself, but if we really shut them down, that will really decrease their confidence and increase ours.”
The Bulldogs take on Northern Iowa at 6 p.m. on Friday in Cedar Falls. Drake will complete the series with a doubleheader on Saturday. Saturday’s games are scheduled for 12 p.m. and 2 p.m.