Green Bay comes to Madison with an 11-11 overall record and having just lost last weekend’s conference series between Horizon League rival Cleveland State, two games to one.
The Badgers, on the other hand, have won two of their last three games, including their first conference victory after beating Indiana last week in Bloomington, 5-4. Leading the surging Badgers has been sophomore leadoff hitter Jen Krueger. Over the weekend series, Krueger notched five hits, scored four runs, swiped two bases and walked once. Although her numbers at the dish were impressive, it may have been the havoc she wreaked on the base paths that proved more influential to the team’s first conference victory. UW head coach Chandelle Schulte believes any time a player can manufacture runs in terms of stealing and advancing the runners can pay enormous dividends.
“Her speed, it just kills [teams],” Schulte said. “When she gets on, things happen because she can steal.”
With Krueger setting the table for the middle of the order as a productive leadoff hitter, the Badgers offense has blossomed. In their victory over the Hoosiers, cleanup and designated hitter Karla Powell came through with three hits as well.
Although pitcher Letty Olivarez contends she has not played as well as she’s capable, her numbers indicate otherwise. Over her last 19-plus innings, which span over both the Indiana and North Dakota series, she has conceded only five earned runs, while striking out 15 batters. If it were not for a number of untimely errors, she would have won two of the games.
“I’ve changed to being focused more on winning each pitch instead of trying to get a certain batter or trying to win the inning” Olivarez said.
In the victory over Indiana, the Badgers jumped out to an early 3-0 lead, which she said eased her nerves.
“It’s important in the sense that it makes me feel more confident, but it’s still separate in terms of I still need to do my job no matter how many runs we get,” Olivarez said.
Schulte was more than impressed with the manner in which her junior pitcher has been performing.
“She’s been brilliant,” Schulte said. “She needs not to do anything more than she’s done and just pitch her game.”
Although the caliber of the talent isn’t as profound as in the Big Ten’s, the Phoenix still present a formidable challenge for the Badgers, and despite the disparity there does appear to be a rivalry between the players.
“Most of these kids know each other from in-state, and for bragging rights, yes absolutely [there is a rivalry],” Schulte said.
The first time Schulte traveled to Green Bay indicated just how seriously the Phoenix consider the two upcoming non-conference games.
“The first time I ever went to Green Bay on the back of their dugout, they had a thing of the year that they beat Wisconsin, and so for them it’s huge and for us it’s huge,” Schulte said.
The Badgers will have to contend with Melani Niederer of the Phoenix, who has posted a .347 average with 21 runs scored in 75 at bats. They’ll also be facing standout pitcher Amanda Margelofsky, who has a record of 7-2 with a respectable 3.88 earned run average.
The last time these two teams met in 2008, the Badgers swept the doubleheader, surrendering only two runs in the process.