Heading into the final weekend of the regular season, the Wisconsin softball team is hoping to bounce back from a difficult weekend as it reflects on what has been a largely successful season so far.
The Badgers (33-17, 12-8 in conference) lost both games of a doubleheader to the nationally ranked Michigan Wolverines this weekend.
The first game went smoothly for starting pitcher Cassandra Darrah until the third inning, when she gave up four straight singles followed by a grand slam to put Michigan up 5-0. UW scored one run late in the game, but it was not enough to overcome the Wolverines’ lead.
The Badgers scored their run on an RBI double by Mary Massei. Karla Powell began the inning with a single, and Maggie Strange then went into the game to run for Powell. She advanced on a sacrifice bunt by Maria Van Abel before Massei drove her in.
The second game was closer as the Badgers fell behind 3-0 early but were able to come back and take a 4-3 lead in the third inning. But Michigan tacked on four unanswered runs to end the game with a 7-4 win.
Whitney Massey led the Badgers in hitting in both games. She went 2-for-4 with one run and three RBIs in the second game, just after going 2-for-3 in the first. Kendall Grimm also contributed by finishing 3-for-4 and scoring two runs.
Wisconsin had a chance at retribution taken away when the scheduled series finale Sunday was postponed due to inclement weather.
Michigan’s wins this weekend continued its dominant performance in conference play, and the Wolverines’ 15-5 conference record is good enough for first place in the Big Ten.
But the Badgers are not focusing on the losses this weekend because of the deciding games they have ahead of them. Wisconsin is on the bubble of making the postseason, and this weekend will be the team’s final push to qualify for the playoffs.
“From a focus standpoint, [the postseason is] what the team’s focusing on,” head coach Yvette Healy said in her Monday press conference. “It’s been fun being in the conversation about winning the Big Ten, but Michigan made some huge strides this weekend and we understand that, but there’s still a lot of exciting things that can happen. So the team’s really focused on ‘Can we just play great on the road at Nebraska and give ourselves a chance to keep playing?’”
Healy attributed the Badgers’ success this season to the team’s strong desire to keep winning. The smaller recruiting classes have limited UW’s ability to rely on young talent to win, something Healy says is a testament to the hard work this team has put in to improve.
“I think their success really is about them wanting to be great,” Healy said. “So in building the program, of course, we’re going to keep recruiting and bringing in great student-athletes, but we haven’t brought in a huge class yet. To make improvements at this point, it’s just all due to the current student-athletes really having a hunger and desire and putting the work in.”
The tight-knit, family-like atmosphere of the team has also been key to the team’s success. According to Healy, the players are able to put in the difficult individual work and hold each other responsible for their actions.
By putting together a winning streak that now stands as a new program record, this Wisconsin team has started to set a higher standard for the program’s future. UW has already improved on its 2011 record – the first year under Healy – by three games.
“I think that we’re in a great position right now, and it’s something that we have to keep taking a step back and enjoying because the more you win, the more you want to win,” Healy said. “The better the team plays, the more quickly you want it all to happen.”
The Badgers will end the regular season with a road trip to Nebraska, a series that starts with a doubleheader Friday and wraps up the final game Saturday.
Going into the final weekend, the Badgers are tied for fourth with Nebraska in the conference standings.
“It’s going to be a long road trip, and they’re undefeated at home,” Healy said. “So they’re a great program, and I think it’s no better way for us to close out the season.”
With an array of close games this season, UW’s 33 wins have not come easily. But for Healy, it’s indicative of the team’s style and was to be expected for a Badger squad that relied on getting wins out of hard-fought games.
For the head coach, the high stakes finish this year is a fitting way to conclude the regular season.
“We’ve said it all year long to all of them that they like to come from behind and have these great comeback wins, and they like to make it exciting and down to the wire,” she said. “I said, ‘How would this team do it any other way than actually leave it up to your last games on the road to see whether we’re going to keep playing.’ And that drama has been there all year, so I didn’t expect anything less.”