The Wisconsin softball team (13-10) moved to 2-1 in Big Ten play as players returned home after defeating Iowa (11-17) Sunday by a score of 5-4, handing the Badgers the series victory over Iowa after they split the doubleheader Saturday.
The final game of the conference-opening series for Wisconsin was also the highest-scoring game. The Badgers had impressive performances from freshman center fielder Maria Van Abel and right fielder Marissa Mersch.
The team has not been successful when playing Iowa in the past, and the history of the Iowa program is also something to admire. Even after the two wins this weekend, the Badgers are 11-29 all-time against Iowa.
“Iowa is just a legacy program,” head coach Yvette Healy said at her Monday press conference. “They’ve got four World Series appearances and 16 NCAAs. We knew we would have our hands full. We are pretty evenly-matched to them, and to come out with two out of three is great for our young club and our young pitchers.”
All three of the games were close, one-run contests.
Starting pitcher Cassandra Darrah threw complete games in all three of the games against Iowa. She gave up only five earned runs in 20 innings of work, and the sophomore was also able to survive a bases-loaded jam in the bottom of the seventh inning to end the game.
“They are great; they are doing a great job with helping managing the ball, keeping it in the park, but we are still a low strikeout team,” Healy said. “We are going to have to work really hard. I think they have just gotten smarter managing hitters and containing hitters.”
After the series, Van Abel boasts the Big Ten’s best batting average for the second straight week. Her .478 average was part of a seven-game hit streak and .556 average from the weekend prior in Santa Barbara, Calif. She failed to get off a hit in both of the doubleheader games but came out strong in the finale.
Van Abel was the catalyst for the offense in the third and final game of the series as she finished 2-for-3 and scored the first run for the Badgers, and Healy had nothing but praise for her center fielder.
“She’s probably one of the most fun kids to talk about,” Healy said. “I saw Maria just last year as a senior, and she’s the type of person when you meet her, you know she is going to be successful.
“I heard from Bret [Bielema] and from Bo [Ryan] and all of the coaches here and Barry [Alvarez] about recruiting Wisconsin kids and finding some great overachieving type players. The minute I met Maria, I said, ‘This is a kid who is going to be successful.’ She is smart, well-spoken, great attitude and a hard worker. She had everything in place when we recruited her. She has had a huge learning curve, and it is all attributed to how hard that kid works.”
Healy hopes she can find other players similar to Van Abel in future recruiting.
“I think that is the future of this program,” Healy said. “To find some of these great Midwestern players and stick with them and grow from the inside out instead of looking at everything from just the West Coast.”
The team has not played a home game yet this season, and the Badgers’ head coach says she has learned a lot about the team so far this season and thinks that this past series against Iowa is a sign of significant progress for the program.
“We have not gotten over the hump for beating some of the big-time teams yet,” Healy said. “We have not gotten over the hump to get a ton of momentum leading into Iowa, so that was a critical weekend for us to put together some wins.”
Healy added that the biggest thing to take from this weekend is the confidence and the ability to win on the road. She also is starting to see more grit and toughness in the players along with the will to win through the time, effort and emotion the players have put into the game.