The Wisconsin softball team heads back out on the road and back into Big Ten play this weekend with games against Purdue (29-17-1, 6-4 Big Ten) Friday and Saturday and a doubleheader at Indiana (12-31, 2-8) Sunday afternoon.
The Badgers (17-19, 3-7) are riding the tails of a four-game winning streak that started Monday afternoon against North Dakota State. They have won five of their last seven games, all of those wins coming against non-conference opponents.
Wisconsin began the Big Ten season hot, winning its first three games, but things quickly went downhill for the Badgers as they lost their next seven conference games. Although some of those losses came at the hands of very difficult opponents, including ranked teams like Michigan and Northwestern, the Badgers didn’t expect to be 3-7 at the halfway mark of conference play.
Now the Badgers must right the ship, and they must do so away from Goodman Diamond. Wisconsin played the entire first half of its Big Ten schedule at home and will play the remainder of its conference games on the road.
The Badgers make the first stop on their tour at West Lafayette, Indiana, where they will take on the Boilermakers of Purdue. The Boilermakers, fresh off a split against Valparaiso, have dropped their last four conference games after winning their first six.
Despite the conference skid, which came against Michigan and Northwestern, the Boilermakers are a team to be reckoned with in the Big Ten. Purdue is led by All-American second baseman Andrea Hillsey, who leads the team with a .373 batting average. She has also knocked in 24 runs, six of which came by way of the long ball. Hitting cleanup for the Boilermakers is power-hitting right fielder DaQueta Johnson, who has smashed seven home runs this season and hit 34 RBI, both of which lead the team.
As a team, the Boilermakers are hitting .265, which could present a problem for Wisconsin’s shaky defense. However, Badger head coach Karen Gallagher is confident that her team can pull it all together this weekend.
“If we can score some runs for our pitchers early on in the game and play solid defense, we’re in good shape,” she said.
This game also pits the Big Ten’s best and worst defenses against each other. Purdue has erred only 34 times this season for a fielding percentage of .974 while the Badgers lead the Big Ten with 58 errors. The key in these games will be for Wisconsin to minimize mistakes on the field against Purdue’s hitters.
When the Badgers finally make it down to Bloomington to take on Indiana, they will face a substantially less daunting team than the Boilermakers. Indiana, who has already had a nine-game losing streak this season, earned its only two conference wins against the worst team in the Big Ten, Illinois.
The Hoosiers have struggled mostly at the plate this season. As a team, their .215 batting average is the lowest in the conference. Indiana’s best hitter, Tory Yamaguchi, has hit seven homers but is only batting .284 on the season.
The bright spot for the Hoosiers has been pitcher Megan Roark. Roark has been the workhorse for Indiana this season, logging 191.0 innings on the mound this season. She has done well in those innings, as she has pitched to a 2.68 ERA and an astounding 190 strikeouts, the fourth-highest strikeout total in the conference.
The Badgers are coming into this weekend, though, with something to prove. They want to end their seven-game conference skid and keep their current winning streak alive. If they continue to hit as they have recently they will do just that. In fact, the Badgers recently set the school record for home runs in a game with their four-homer performance Monday afternoon.
Their pitching has also been reliable throughout the season. Sophomore Eden Brock and senior Katie Layne have been rocks on the mound this season, posting ERAs of 2.39 and 2.55, respectively. The duo pitched a game in each of the last two doubleheaders Monday and Tuesday and gave up only one earned run in those games.
While the team doesn’t want to put too much emphasis on this weekend alone, these games will be crucial to the Badgers’ playoff hopes. While the Badgers can still make postseason play, any more conference losses could quickly turn a damaged ship into a sinking one.
“We’re capable of winning four of these ball games,” said Gallagher. “We just have to get back to one play at a time, one inning at a time, one game at a time.”