It looked like both games were out of reach.
Down 4-1 in game one and behind 3-0 in game two, the Wisconsin softball team flirted with potentially being swept in Iowa.
But the Badgers battled back, clawing their way back from both deficits to complete a historical first sweep of the Hawkeyes on the road with 7-6 and 6-3 victories, setting the team up for the biggest series of season.
Coming off a successful road trip with a reinforced confidence, Wisconsin (26-19, 6-8) looks to capitalize on its recent momentum when it takes on No. 2 Michigan (42-4, 10-2) in a weekend series at the friendly home confines of Goodman Diamond.
In a sport where pitching reigns supreme, Michigan’s pitching talent gives the Wolverines a chance to win every game.
On its way to holding the lowest team earned run average in the conference (1.61), Michigan boasts two of the best pitchers in the Big Ten in senior Jordan Taylor (21-3) and sophomore Stephanie Speierman (18-1). The 1-2 Wolverine punch is first and second in earned run average overall in the Big Ten; both giving up less than two runs a game. The Badgers will most likely face low scoring games against the Wolverines, as 26 of Michigan’s 42 wins only allowed the opposing team one run or less.
“Their pitchers do a great job,” Healy said. “You can’t win games the way they do and stack up 42 wins without having phenomenal people on the mound. We’ve really got to work on keeping the game close and trying to frustrate them. We’ll have do what we do offensively and cause a little commotion to serve us well.”
While the Michigan pitchers are terrific, their offense may be even better. Michigan as a team bats .327 and boasts two players with over 50 runs batted in. Leadoff hitter Bree Evans has a Michigan-best .414 batting average and a conference-leading 67 hits. Ashley Lane has 14 home runs for the Wolverines, as three Michigan hitters have double-digit home run totals on the season.
“They’re tough top to bottom,” Healy said. “They’ve got kids that can beat you one through nine in their order.”
Wisconsin may face the second best team in the country this weekend, but the Badgers have the confidence of recently sweeping a Hawkeye team that beat the Wolverines in Ann Arbor.
“I think sweeping Iowa helps us a lot,” sophomore Shannel Blackshear said. “It gives us a lot of confidence because if we went in and beat Iowa twice and they beat an even better team last weekend…it gives us a lot of confidence we can go in there and possibly take both games this weekend from Michigan.”
“We have all the confidence in the world right now,” sophomore Whitney Massey said. “Michigan might be worried about us because we always seem to come back in the late innings.”
This year has been the year of the comeback for Wisconsin. Living up to hopes in the preseason of having a scrappy team, the Badgers have tied the school record for most comeback wins in a season with 14.
Healy hopes the Badgers scrappy play and comeback threat will come in handy against a dominant Wolverine program.
“The wins at Iowa gave us a chance to still be in the tournament hunt,” Healy said. “We said to the team all year keep playing hard and in the end put ourselves in a spot to make the tournament. We’re still there, we know Michigan’s a really tough team but we’re playing scrappy right now and we’re still in a position to make some noise.”
Massey provided the Badgers with the position to win during the first game in Iowa City, when the Salinas, Calif. native tied the game at four a piece with a three run blast in the top of the second. The pinch-hit homerun was Wisconsin’s first since 2008, and kickstarted a five run outburst in the second.
“We know that the game’s never over,” Massey said. “I think our coaches put that in our heads right away this year by telling us to never give up. This year we’ve just continued to persevere and get the key hits when we’ve needed them.”
The Badgers will need more heroics like Massey’s in order to compete with the Wolverines. With Wisconsin situated as a large underdog this weekend, a victory against a top tier program like Michigan will serve as a signature win in Healy’s effort to change the culture of Wisconsin softball.
“We’ll need to do something extraordinary to beat them,” Healy said. “The future is bright for Wisconsin softball, but our girls are impatient, they want to be great now. We want to see how great we can be.”