Spring Break is right around the corner, but there is no break on tap for the UW softball team. The Badgers travel to California this weekend for two big tournaments, the Stanford Classic and the Capital Classic, where they will duke it out against such West Coast powerhouses as Stanford, Brigham Young and Pacific.
The Badgers (4-6 overall, 0-0 Big Ten) are coming off a tough extra-inning loss to South Dakota State Saturday night in the first round of the championship bracket at the Buzz Classic in Marietta, Ga. Earlier Saturday, the Badgers had won the five-team pool, earning the No. 5 seed in the winner's bracket at the tournament. UW head coach Chandelle Schulte was pleased with the team's performance in the 25-team competition but only up until the loss on Saturday night.
"I thought at times we did very well," Schulte said. "But at the same time, we need to improve every game. So that is where my disappointment came in, because we need to take two steps forward and not one step back, to continue to grow … We had the opportunity to go [undefeated in the tournament], and so when we have those opportunities, we really need to take advantage of them."
The Badgers will have an opportunity to beef up their NCAA Tournament resume starting Friday at the Stanford Classic. They will square off against Stanford, BYU, Pacific, Middle Tennessee State and Miami (Ohio) over the three-day weekend. According to the ESPN.com/USA Softball Collegiate Top 25 rankings, host school Stanford sports the No. 5 squad in America. The Badgers have never defeated the Cardinals, posting a 0-2 all-time record in the series.
The Badgers best chance to defeat Stanford Friday rests in the right arm of standout pitcher Eden Brock.
Brock, who pitched a season-high eight innings against South Dakota State, has a record of 3-3 on the young season and boasts an ERA of 2.37.
Against Florida A&M Friday at the Buzz Classic, Brock, who hails from Wakulla County, Fla., pitched a three-hit, nine-strikeout shutout. Rather than being concerned with statistics, though, Brock's primary focus is to keep runs off the scoreboard.
"I don't really go into a game thinking I need to get a certain number of strikeouts, or, 'don't let them get this many hits,'" explained Brock. "I just focus on trying to do my best and trying to keep people from scoring. I'm not really worried about the smaller details."
The junior went 2-1 last weekend at the Buzz Classic and was named to the all-tournament team after sporting a 0.64 ERA while tallying 21 strikeouts and pitching three complete games. With recent success fresh in her mind, she realizes that hitters will get their hits, no matter how well she pitches.
"If someone gets a hit, if it's a bad pitch, then it's my fault," Brock said. "But [sometimes] they can hit a good pitch, and so I can't really prevent that."
Brock is excited for the early season tournaments, and sees them as a chance to bond and to improve as a team before Big Ten competition rolls around late March.
"I think that we're going to do really well this season," the pitcher expressed. "This was our second tournament that we just completed, so we're still just getting used to everything. We improved from our first tournament, which is what we're looking for. We're always looking to get better. You always want to peak right during conference [play] … It's a team effort, we all work together, and I'll do my best to help carry us along."
As a junior and a three-year starter on this young Badger team, Brock has the confidence that she and the Badgers can compete with strong opponents they will be facing at both the Stanford and Capital Classics.
"I always enjoy facing teams that are ranked because it is a challenge … You want to see … how you can do against them, so you always want to 'bring your A game,' and it's always fun … You're the underdog, so you want to show them that you're better than them."
Players like Eden Brock have given Coach Schulte faith in her Badger squad, no matter how daunting the opponent may be.
"I think we do [have the ability to compete against Stanford, BYU and Pacific in the upcoming tournaments]," Schulte said. "We opened up at Arizona [in the Kajikawa Classic, where the Badgers went 1-4 against some of America's best softball teams], and we were really in almost every ball game. It was just one inning; one inning seemed to be our downfall."
She relates the strength of the opposition in the forthcoming tournaments to the high quality of foes the Badgers will play down the road in the Big Ten.
"In the Big Ten, there's just as many teams that are in the Top 20 [as there are in the Stanford and Capital Classics], so we just need to play it like it is the Big Ten. And so I think we can, I think we can compete with anybody on any given day, but we have to play well."
Only time will tell if the Badgers will be able to evade the costly big inning and "play well" against the big guns of the Wild West.