After two weeks of long distance traveling to Florida and California, the Wisconsin softball team is headed to Illinois for the SalSaluki Invitational this weekend.
Only being one month into the season, the team has shown a lot of promise for what is to come in the remainder of the season, jumping out to a 14-3 record, the best in program history.
The Badgers are riding high after upsetting No. 16 Stanford last weekend and playing tough in a 5-3 loss to No. 8 California, two of the countries best.
“We’re still coming off of this last week with the confidence of how we’ve been doing,” junior outfielder Mary Massei said. “We’re still going to be practicing hard everyday this week and we have our minds set so we’re just going to go reach our goals this weekend.”
Leading the way for the Badgers, like usual, has been junior pitcher Cassandra Darrah. The seasoned starter is already 9-1 on the year with seven complete game efforts and an astoundingly low 1.23 ERA.
But, unlike years prior, Darrah has found support behind her in the Badgers’ No. 2 and No. 3 options on the mound. Senior Meghan McIntosh has posted a record of 3-2 with a 1.58 ERA while newcomer Taylor-Paige Stewart has already won Big Ten Freshman of the Week recognition for her 3-0 record and 1.93 ERA.
Thanks to a balanced and deep group on the mound, Wisconsin has found no need to worry when Darrah has the afternoon off.
“Our pitchers have been dominating and doing really well and working hard,” Massei said. “When it comes to our offense we’ve just been taking hacks and been doing really well in achieving some major goals”
With the Badgers’ pitching and offense giving teams fits — the team currently holds an overall offensive average of .328 — Wisconsin head coach Yvette Healy is looking for her team to improve on a factor they don’t have much control on improving.
Due to Wisconsin’s weather being uncooperative, the team has been unable to get outdoors and practice on Goodman Diamond, forcing practice’s indoor on the turf of the Dave McClain Center.
“When you’re at a cold-climate school, you’re not outdoors practicing so our practices determine the games,” Healy said. “We’re trying to show up our defense and it’s been good so far so I think we have the ability to get better.”
With the focus on defense and constant improvement, the team is looking ahead to the invitational this weekend. They are scheduled to play Belmont, Southern Illinois, Illinois-Chicago and Eastern Kentucky.
Wisconsin has the best record of any team heading into the tournament and with their play standing toe-to-toe with the better teams they’ve played this season, the group has found a bit of early season swagger that may have been lacking at this point a season ago.
“I think our confidence is pretty high right now,” Darrah said. “We feel like we can beat anybody and play anybody.”
Although none of their opponents are ranked in the polls. the games are still critical for the Badgers, who missed receiving an at-large bid in the NCAA tournament a season ago. When it comes down to tournament time and teams to be selected, the Badgers know they can’t have any losses against the opponents on paper they’re supposed to beat.
Healy personally just wants to see how the Badgers stack up as a program within the Midwest.
“Southern Illinois will be very good and within the region these are all really quality opponents,” Healy said. “To play more in the Midwest is going to really help us a lot; it will be a good challenge. It will show us where we’re at from a regional standpoint.
“We had two really long trips back to back as we played six games a week ago in Orlando, got home really late Sunday night and then turned around and flew out Wednesday. We’ve been on the road a lot, and to play six more games in the last 2 weeks, it’s been a tough road. It’s nice that we don’t leave until Friday this week.”
There hasn’t been any drop off playing closer to home so far, as the team has currently won both of their Saturday games and has two more to play on Sunday.
“I think it has a positive impact on our team. We’re a really close team in general,” Massei said. “I don’t think we get on each other’s nerves or anything, we’re super close and it brings us closer together.”