The Wisconsin softball team swept South Dakota State Wednesday, but the Badgers now face one of their toughest tests of the season. Traveling to Bloomington, Ind., for a weekend series against the Hoosiers, Wisconsin will have an opportunity to test its mettle against one of the best teams in the Big Ten.
When Wisconsin (22-15, 2-4) faces Indiana (22-15, 6-2), the Badgers will face one of the best pitchers the conference has to offer. Hoosier southpaw Morgan Melloh (20-14) can do it all, as the senior leads the Big Ten in innings pitched (215), strikeouts (325) and is second in wins (20). Melloh also boasts a 1.89 ERA, providing the Badger hitters with a mountainous task for the weekend series.
It’s a challenge head coach Yvette Healy likened to an earlier road series against Penn State and its two pitching aces, Lisa Akamine and Jackie Hill.
“Melloh is really phenomenal,” Healy said. “We’re going to have to get creative offensively to see what we can do. Against Penn State, we moved around in the box a little bit and kept them off balance. We had a ton of base runners in that series, and they had phenomenal pitchers, as well.”
Junior Karla Powell voiced the same need for creativity for the upcoming games.
“As a team, we’re going to try different things in the box; we’ll definitely need to see the ball well this weekend,” Powell said. “From an individual standpoint, I’ll just stay within my self and play my game.”
Another way the Badgers may sport a different look against Indiana is at first base. Senior Dana Rasmussen has recently found herself in the Badgers’ starting lineup, replacing the injured Michelle Mueller at first base against South Dakota State. Rasmussen, a homegrown player who played for Madison East, is getting used to this new position.
“I’ve never really played first base; it’s the one position I haven’t ever excelled at,” Rasmussen said. “On Tuesday, I told Coach Healy if she ever needed anyone to play first base to let me know. She was like ‘OK. By the way, you’re playing first today.'”
While the Badgers will face an obstacle on the mound, they will see a considerably smaller one offensively. Indiana ranks second-to-last in team batting average (.252) but still sports a few capable threats in its lineup.
Hoosier senior Sara Olson sports a terrific .335 batting average as well as seven home runs and 27 RBIs. Providing the Hoosiers a spark at the leadoff position and a compliment to Olson is sophomore Breanna Saucedo, commanding a .331 average and 43 hits already on the season.
Facing an Indiana team that allows only 2.3 runs per contest, the Badgers will look to neutralize Olson and Saucedo to keep the Hoosier offense in the doldrums.
“Olson was great in Indiana’s win against Michigan,” Healy said. “We have to be careful around her and hopefully get in situations where we don’t have to give in to her. Hopefully we can go toe to toe with the rest of the Indiana team and be careful with their big hitters.”
Indiana, currently one game behind Michigan for first place in the Big Ten and as winners of 13 of its last 16, is the only conference team to beat the Wolverines this season. If the Badgers are looking for a quality opponent to measure their progress against this season, the Hoosiers fit the description.
“It’s a huge series this weekend – if you lose both games, no one would be surprised,” Healy said. “But if we can go out and make a statement and split with them, it’d be a huge win for us, a big RPI win; they’re 30 in the rankings.”
“We’re doing really well; we have one of the best records we’ve had in a long time,” Powell said. “We discussed that last night after the game. If we keep splitting our series or taking both games against teams that aren’t expecting us to, its going to help us, not only in the standings, but help us down the road for an NCAA bid.”
The Badgers will most likely send their ace pitcher, freshman Cassandra Darrah (12-5), to the mound to counter Melloh. While the Badgers have come back multiple times throughout the season, Healy and the Badgers hope to propel themselves out of the gates early and never look back.
“We’ve had nice chances and been ahead in games we’ve lost,” Healy said. “I just want to see the girls close and play hard. To win a game at Indiana, you’re not going to win just playing your normal game. We’ll have to make some great diving catches, stolen bases and some key hits. They have to have that mentality about them of doing something special.”