The UW softball team travels to the great state of Oklahoma this weekend to take on No. 9 Oklahoma University and Northwestern State University in the OU/Worth Invitational in Norman.
This weekend marks the fourth tournament in the span of one month for the Badgers. This weekend, however, will be different than the past because the Badgers will only be playing two teams and will be playing a total of four games.
The Badgers are fielding a young team this year and the team is facing some growing pains already. The team currently holds a 6-7 record, which is a bit misleading. They have faced four ranked teams already defeating then No.15 Fresno State 8-4 and then No. 23 Oregon State 3-1.
This weekend could be just what the Badgers need; they are coming off of four consecutive losses in as many games played. The No.9 Sooners are 12-3 after rattling off five straight wins at the ASU Tournament against two top-10-ranked opponents.
Northwestern State, hot out of Natchitoches, La., on the other hand, wishes the was over already — or that it never started in the first place. The Demons are 1-11 so far this season after rattling off seven straight losses to open the season, the Demons finally got down to business and beat Notre Dame 3-2 for their first win — they have lost four straight since that first win.
This weekend could prove to be a momentous weekend for the UW Badgers; they need just two wins to reach 200 in the softball program’s history. The 200th win will also be the 200th for head coach Karen Gallagher, who has been the only coach for the program since the inaugural season eight years ago. Gallagher has coached the team to three straight 30-plus win seasons.
The tournament this weekend will be the second to last for the Badgers. From exotic Norman they take a cliché spring break trip to the sunny paradise of Honolulu, Hawaii.
After returning from Hawaii, the team will open up its regular season March 28 when Oakland University comes to Madison to officially signal the end of winter and the start of spring. The team has been practicing inside and playing away from home for the past two months: The first stain of Wisconsin grass on a UW uniform will be a welcome sign indeed.
The team, thus far, is led in batting by freshman Emily Friedman, who has a .289 batting average. The Empress of Swat, junior Erin Barnharst, leads the Badgers with three home runs and nine RBIs after her Big Ten Player of the Week performance in Raleigh, N.C., over the weekend of Feb. 15. On the mound, senior Andrea Kirchberg has maintained her Dot Richardson-like dominance with 94 strikeouts in 64 innings of work.
However, this weekend remains the current focus for the Badgers. The team can get some needed wins against a weaker opponent and more playing experience for the younger players when they face Northwestern State. The Badgers can also test their progress against nationally ranked Oklahoma at their hostile home turf amongst bloodthirsty fans in Norman.