Two games. Two heartbreaks.
After a weekend series in Bloomington marked by a pair of losses that came down to the final at bat in each game, Wisconsin (22-17, 2-6) looks to rebound against Minnesota (25-18, 3-5) in a Wednesday doubleheader.
While the Badgers are returning home to the friendly confines of Goodman Diamond, Wisconsin received a shot of confidence over the past weekend and showed it could play with the best in the Big Ten. Against Indiana, the second-best team in the conference, Wisconsin hung tough the entire series. On Saturday the Badgers dropped a 4-3 decision to the Hoosiers in eight innings, while on Sunday Wisconsin lost 6-4 after a Hoosier walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the seventh.
Freshman pitcher Amanda Najdek and the team are taking only the positives from the games that got away.
“Knowing that we can hang with a team who has a 30 RPI feels really good,” Najdek said. “We were in those games so long, it makes it feel like we can do it. You can’t stay down about games like that.”
The Badgers had chances to win both games over the weekend, but head coach Yvette Healy knows that mistakes came back to bite them in the end.
“Indiana is really good. I think a team like that you can’t give them any extra outs,” Healy said. “The key to the last game was the four errors we gave up. We turned their lineup over one more time and had to face their big dogs in that last inning. The seventh inning their one, two and three hitters all came up while we had the bottom of our order to the plate.”
Wisconsin will be well prepped for its matchup with Minnesota’s star pitcher Sara Moulton (22-10). While the freshman ace boasts an impressive 1.99 earned run average, the Wisconsin offense will be battle-hardened after facing a double dose of Indiana’s ace Morgan Melloh.
In two games Melloh fanned 33 Badger hitters, including 21 in the first game on her way to being named USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Week. The recent experience against one of the best pitchers in the Big Ten will help prepare the Badgers for their border clash with the Gophers.
“Moulton’s been great for them,” Healy said. “If we can hit her it will serve us well. Their first baseman Malisa Barnes is great too. She hits in the mid .400’s and has home run power. So if we can contain her and figure out some ways to get hits off Moulton, we’ll be happy.”
Moulton will have her hands full when she faces the Badger power hitting combination of junior Karla Powell (9 HR) and sophomore Shannel Blackshear (8 HR). Blackshear enjoyed the rare opportunity to bat in the leadoff spot against Indiana, where she justified the decision with a leadoff home run against Indiana Saturday.
“I was a little antsy and excited up there because I’ve never led off before,” Blackshear said. “I was just up there thinking I was going to hit the ball and get on base. I wasn’t expecting to hit a home run, but I was really happy that I did.”
“She made us look like geniuses,” Healy said.
Along with the long ball, Wisconsin will most likely receive a boost offensively in its lineup with the long awaited return of freshman Mary Massei. The Badgers lost Massei to three facial fractures after a collision with Jennifer Krueger in the outfield during the teams Big Ten opener against Penn State in March.
The return of Massei (.329 avg) as well as freshman Michelle Mueller (.275 avg) will add depth for the Badgers as the team enters the midway point of conference play.
“We were short a couple people this weekend,” Healy said. “We’re really excited Massei and Mueller will be back in. That’s huge for us; those are two key kids who have had a lot of great offensive sparks for us. Missing them has hurt us a bit. They’re great players, and it will be nice to have them back in the lineup.”
The addition couldn’t come at a better time, as the Badgers are still struggling to get a foothold in the Big Ten. The Badgers continue to play hard, as five of the teams conference losses have come by three runs or less. With Wisconsin fighting for an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament, the Badgers will be focused on putting together a run as only 12 conference games remain.
“Every game’s important,” Najdek said. “We just have to get our job done every day.”