Although school records at the University of Wisconsin tend to own a great deal of significance, the women’s softball team could not care less, or at least it seems like it could not.
The Badgers made breaking records a second hobby in 2012, raising the bar in six offensive categories en route to a school record 34 victories. It would seem like the bar is high enough, almost too high to reach once again. Only it is not.
If the Wisconsin offense was thunderous in 2012, the young, 11-game slice of 2013 has been deafening. In just two weekends of work, the Badgers have scored 68 runs on their way to, yes, a school record 10-1 start. Although they have completed just one-fifth of their season, the Badgers have rolled out a .352 batting average, which, although sure to decline, would stand as another school record. Right now, things just seem to be working.
“I think we are balanced, and that’s really key,” head coach Yvette Healy said. “We’ve got a lot of great lefty hitters and some righties. We’ve got some speed, we’ve got some power … we’ve got a lot of players doing a lot of good things.”
Wisconsin’s early season offensive prowess has them sitting atop the Big Ten team batting average ranks. Their closest competition is Penn State, who has garnered a .349 average in just seven games.
Like most seasons at Wisconsin, the nonconference schedule tends to begin with trips to each coast, competing in invitational tournaments against all types of competition. Their 10-1 record would lead one to believe the entirety of Wisconsin’s offensive explosion has come from a lack of quality competition.
The Badgers’ five opponents have opened 2013 with a combined record of 28-25, but remove the games Wisconsin has played in and that record jumps to a much more impressive 27-15.
Although the names Georgia Southern and Boston University certainly don’t jump off the page, Wisconsin’s bats have not faced any pipsqueaks. In fact, the pitchers the Badgers have already faced are just as good as any.
Boston’s ace, senior Whitney Tuthill, was a second team All-American East conference selection last season. The Badgers roughed her up to the tune of 21 hits and nine runs over 12 innings and two Wisconsin victories.
Georgia Southern’s top dog, Sarah Purvis, saw a similarly difficult time as Wisconsin knocked her around for 12 hits and eight more runs, though Wisconsin hitting coach Randy Schneider was full of praise in her defense.
“Purvis was as good as any pitcher we’ll see,” Schneider said. “We didn’t have a ton of hits on her, but we knocked her out of the game twice.”
That is what it has taken for Wisconsin to produce runs against quality pitching: not necessarily a boatload of hits, but getting on base and moving runners around the diamond. They will have to do so even more this weekend as they head west to Fullerton, Calif., to play in the Easton Invitational.
Whatever lacking competition they may have had to begin the season with will no longer be the case as the weekend slate includes their first bouts against ranked opponents No. 16 Stanford and No. 8 California.
By no coincidence, the best teams on the west coast boast some of the best pitchers in the nation. Stanford’s Kelsey Stevens and California’s Jolene Henderson have dominated their opponents thus far and will look to quiet the streaky Badgers come Friday and Saturday.
Stevens’ .99 ERA in 12 appearances is good enough for third-best in the Pac-12 while Henderson’s 1.19 average slides her in at fourth in the conference. Wisconsin will travel with their hot bats, but continuing their torrid pace is not the expectation.
Instead, the focuses for Wisconsin will be having quality at-bats and forcing their opposing pitchers into higher pitch counts. Wisconsin’s leadoff hitter, Mary Massei, is noteworthy for her nuisance-like approach to driving up pitch counts.
“She always has great at-bats,” Whitney Massey said of her Big Ten-leading teammate. “It’s a rare occasion that she just goes down and doesn’t really do much with her bat, so when we see her battling pitches like that, it really pumps us up.”
Massei has led the charge thus far with a team-high 21 hits and a .525 batting average. It is no wonder when she is wholly effective as a leadoff, Massei’s ignited teammates follow suit.
As the Badgers look to hang with their most noble opponents of the season, they will look to Massey again for a kick-start, as Massey noted the Badgers’ hitting is “contagious.” Coach Schneider does not need the Badgers to break any new records; he is plenty content with what they have established thus far.
“I really think we’ll go out there and hit,” Schneider said. “I feel like we are one of the best hitting teams in the country [right now]. Hopefully I can stand on that for awhile.”