Lauren Karn’s hands gripped the dugout’s railing, her eyes locked on the circle. The Maryland softball coach’s focus remained on pitcher Courtney Wyche.

Wyche was struggling in Sunday’s game against Northwestern, walking batter after batter. Before the next pitch, the graduate student glanced over at Karn, her eyes pleading for a quick fix to the issue before her.

Calling a timeout, Karn walked to the circle for the second time in the first few innings.

“It’s not physical,” Karn recalled saying. “It’s your mental.”

“How can this be so mental?” Karn remembered Wyche say.

“Your mental is blocking you from performing physically,” Karn responded. “We have to change your mentality from pitch to pitch.”

[Maryland softball falls to Northwestern, 2-1, extends losing streak to 7]

Maryland is on a seven-game losing streak, and it’s no surprise that the rough stretch coincides with a lack of production from its ace, Wyche. While the physical load is not different compared to other seasons, the mental weight is unlike anything she has experienced collegiately, Karn said. So for now, the Terps practice their mental game.

After beating Illinois 8-0 on April 5, the Terps dropped the final two games of that weekend series and lost a midweek doubleheader to Rutgers. Then they lost three games this past weekend to Northwestern. Wyche started the majority of those games, with freshman Julia Shearer and sophomores Bri Godfrey and Keira Bucher rotating in the circle.

Wyche’s career-best season has broken records. She has won Big Ten Pitcher of the Week, National Pitcher of the Week and threw a Big Ten season-record 19 strikeouts against Penn State on March 29.

“It’s no secret that Courtney has established herself as our number one,” Karn said. “When Courtney struggles, we’re all struggling right now.”

Coming off the highest moment in her career, it can be hard to find a distinct reason when facing a dip in consistency. As conference play continues, the pressure gets heavier and the weight of responsibility is affecting the Terps’ star, according to Karn.

[An unlikely pitcher-catcher relationship has boosted Maryland softball]

Karn equates athletics’ mental journey to climbing a mountain. In Wyche’s case, she climbs her mountains pitch by pitch. Spraining an ankle is like giving up a home run. After each bump, she has to trek forward. Wyche and Karn have worked through this core mindset in the past few weeks.

“We are hitting some bumps in the road for sure. But she’s doing it because she also aspires to play pro and to hopefully make the national team if she can,” Karn said.

Karn wants to give Wyche the tools to succeed when the mental struggles inevitably come up again in her career, she said.

Wyche radiates waves of energy that other pitchers on the team do not. Her passion for the game does not go unnoticed. The team is still figuring out how to reduce the energy dropoff when she’s not in the circle, Karn said.

“The responsibility is really big,” Karn said. “That adds a lot of mental pressure that I don’t think she has had to exercise or practice how to manage in games.”