MINNEAPOLIS -- Minnesota Golden Gophers softball coach Jamie Trachsel had 20 posters made with a simple message and spread them around the softball facility this week.
“Purdue or Rutgers,” they read.
Minnesota will face the winner of that matchup, scheduled to be played Thursday, in the Big Ten tournament quarterfinals Friday in Bloomington, Ind. The message, of course, is that this is no time to look ahead.
“No one in our program right now is talking about anybody but those two teams,” Trachsel said.
Never mind that fellow Big Ten heavyweights Michigan or Northwestern could be next for No. 3 seed Minnesota (39-11). “We can get snake-bit if we think it is about them,” Trachsel said.
And never mind the effect this week’s performance will have on the NCAA tournament pairings. A couple of victories would almost guarantee the Gophers a home regional the following weekend.
“Obviously, everyone is thinking about it, but we try to just attack it a day at a time and just go up against our next opponent,” pitcher Sydney Smith said. “Because we really can’t achieve that unless we beat the next (team) we’re facing.”
Just ask the 2014-15 Gophers, who entered the Big Ten tournament believing they were in a good spot to host a regional, only to lose to Iowa in the first round. They were sent to Arizona for NCAAs.
“We’ve worked too hard to let one thing distract us for even a second to let an opportunity slip by, whether it’s just that game or the tournament,” Trachsel said. “We have lofty goals, and we’ve been really good about embracing the process and every step that comes with it.”
That Iowa game was Minnesota’s last Big Ten tournament defeat. Since then, the Gophers have won the tournament three straight times — and have a real shot at a fourth this weekend.
“We have a lot of postseason experience, and the Big Ten tournament is fun,” Smith said. “This is where you can showcase that you can compete with everyone, and it just gets you rolling into the postseason. … This is when it gets tough, and this is when we show what we really can do.”
Minnesota has momentum on its side. The Gophers are fresh off a series victory over Northwestern, the No. 2 seed in this weekend’s tournament.
“I think that’s going to help us get ready for postseason, as well,” said Amber Fiser, who was named Big Ten Pitcher of the Year on Wednesday. “Just being able to have that experience should help us going into the Big Ten, and hopefully a few weeks after that.”
The ultimate goal for the Gophers is that those ensuing postseason games are played in the Twin Cities. After the 2017 season, the tournament committee snubbed Minnesota for a home regional despite its 54 wins.
“I know we all refer back to two years ago a lot,” Fiser said. “But just knowing the team we are now, I think we’ve grown so much since then, and I think we really deserve to host. But, like I said, this weekend kind of makes that decision, so we have to do it this weekend.”
Big Ten softball tournament
At Bloomington, Ind., BTN
Today’s first round games (seeding in parentheses)
Game 1: (12) Iowa vs. (5) Wisconsin, 11 a.m.
Game 2: (9) Illinois vs. (8) Nebraska, 1:30 p.m.
Game 3:(10) Penn State vs. (7) Indiana, 4:30 p.m.
Game 4: (11) Purdue vs. (6) Rutgers, 7 p.m.
Game 5: G1 winner vs. (4) Ohio State, 11 a.m.
Game 6: G2 Winner vs. (1) Michigan, 1:30 p.m.
Game 7: G3 winner vs. (2) Northwestern, 4:30 p.m.
Game 8: Gr winner vs. (3) GOPHERS, 7 p.m.
G5 winner vs. G6 winner, noon
G7 winner vs. G8 winner, 2:30 p.m.
Semifinal winners, 5 p.m.