The Badgers (9-19) lost two games at Purdue over the weekend to start Big Ten play, while the Fighting Sioux (2-19) have lost their last nine games. That slide is the last thing on UW head coach Chandelle Schulte’s mind.
“Honestly, it means absolutely nothing to me because we could play the best team in the country 2-0 and lose to one of the worst teams in the country 4-3,” Schulte said. “The last thing I’m going to talk about with the girls tonight is how bad North Dakota’s record is. Because really, it’s not about them, it’s about us.”
One of Schulte’s focuses for the Badgers is third base. Injuries and inexperience made the position a weakness for the Badgers, leading Schulte to say any one of four players might get time there. Second baseman Livi Abney and pitcher Leah Vanevenhoven are among the players who could play third as Schulte looks for some consistency at the position.
For UW last weekend, the only consistent factor was its opponent jumping out to an early lead. Purdue scored five first inning runs in the two games against Wisconsin, a trend the team wants to eliminate.
“That’s one of our goals this week, is to win the first inning and get the first out of each inning, and battle that way,” Schulte said. “It’s like getting scored on in football off of the opening kickoff — it just sets a really difficult tone.”
Starting out strong will be important, as North Dakota’s Hanna-Rose Peters is the Great West Conference’s Pitcher of the Week. UW struggled against Purdue’s pitching, tallying only six hits in the series and scoring no runs.
“It’s crucial for us pitchers. We need to set the tempo; we need to come out strong,” Vanevenhoven said. “That’s a big thing we’ve been working on lately, so we’ll see how [tonight] and this weekend goes.”
One advantage for the Badgers is they will be playing on their home field for the first time this season. UW made trips as far away as Honolulu and Palm Springs for tournaments, so not traveling and developing a routine is something the players are looking forward to.
“It feels great. I mean traveling takes a lot out of you, it’s exhausting. It’s great to be able to come home and have fans there,” senior Theresa Boruta said. “We have an amazing fan base that kind of follows us all over the country, but it’s nothing like having your fans at home and being able to play on your own turf.”
Regardless of home field advantage, the Badgers will need more than three hits a game to emerge from tonight’s contests with wins. Schulte believes it will take a complete effort offensively and defensively to win, an idea Boruta echoed.
“I think it’s going to take doing all the little things … laying the foundation, on defense making all the plays and when they give us outs, taking those outs,” Boruta said. “On offense, capitalizing on every advantage they give us. … It’s just going to be doing all the little things well that’s going to prove to be successful for us.”
If the conditions are playable, the Badgers will get their chance to show they can do all those little things when they take the field at 4 and 6 p.m. The forecast calls for a chilly evening with temperatures in the low 40s, weather UW is used to playing in.
“Anything above 35 will be fine,” Schulte said. “We want to play, we want to play on our home field, so we’ll be ready. So long as the field’s ready, we’ll be ready.”