The Wisconsin softball team was once again buoyed by the return of senior Karla Powell on Wednesday night as the 2011 first-team all-Big Ten player returned to the starting lineup as the designated player for the Badgers, going a combined 3-for-5 with two walks in a doubleheader sweep over Indiana State in 8-0 and 9-7 wins.
Powell, who has been gradually recovering from nagging injuries, gave Wisconsin a powerful punch in the middle of the lineup, batting at the No. 6 spot in the order behind hot-hitting Stephanie Peace.
It was evident early that Powell was seeking to make up for lost time, as the powerful slugger ripped balls all across Goodman Diamond with a determined glare in the batter’s box.
“It’s great to be back in the box,” Powell said. “I’ve been working really hard with my swing. I got in a lot of extra cuts yesterday, I was hitting late at night. I want to be in the lineup, and I’m just trying to put leadership in the box and help this program progress.”
“Karla’s doing great,” Peace said. “We’re excited to have her back in the lineup. She’s really stepped up big the last few games. It’s just huge momentum for the whole team to get her back.”
Powell and the Badgers also made history once again Tuesday night. With the two-game sweep, the team has now won 10 consecutive games at Goodman Diamond, a program record. With just 12 games remaining on the season and the team just one win away from its win total last year, Powell knows her senior year has already been special.
“It’s awesome,” Powell said. “We really just want to change the culture in the program. Us doing all these great things and scoring runs is just a mark that I can say when I come back in 10 years, ‘I helped change this program.'”
Wisconsin battles adversity in game two
The Badgers have been playing impressive softball as of late this season. Winners of 13 of its last 14 coming into Wednesday night’s doubleheader, Wisconsin had not faced many challenges in the last week, as the team swept Penn State last weekend with a combined score of 21-1.
In game one against Indiana State, the Badgers’ run ruled their opponent for the third-straight game, winning 8-0 in five innings. It even looked like they would make it four in a row at the top of the fifth inning, as the Badgers took an 8-0 lead into the top of the frame, but the Sycamores had other plans.
Indiana State scored five runs on four hits off Wisconsin pitcher Amanda Najdek, as suddenly the Badgers found themselves only up 8-5. The Badger infield also committed a critical error in that inning, as third baseman Shannel Blackshear’s scoop to make the play at home sailed over catcher Maggie Strange’s head.
“It was just frustrating because I expect a lot of myself, as do my coaches,” Blackshear said. “That’s a play I should’ve been thinking ahead on and know better.”
The game got even more uncomfortable when Indiana State’s Alyssa Heller hit a two-run pinch hit homerun off Meghan McIntosh, cutting the Wisconsin lead to 9-7. But McIntosh was able to seal the deal in the end, grounding out the final Sycamore batter to first baseman Michelle Mueller.
For Healy, it’s always better to struggle in nonconference games rather than against Big Ten foes, where there’s more leeway for mistakes.
“We were a play away from two-run rules, and I don’t know if that would have helped us as much,” Healy said. “This was actually a great learning experience for us. We’re still a young group and we still make some mistakes. This is why you play mid-week games, to hopefully get this out of your system when it won’t hurt us as much.”
While Blackshear’s error was the team’s lone fielding mistake in the doubleheader, the Badgers benefited from most of the other plays Blackshear made throughout the day. The third baseman displayed a gold glove by making one play from her knees and playing the hot corner with apparent ease.
“I really like [third base], I enjoy getting the ball,” Blackshear said. “I kind of get bored if I don’t really get it, so it’s nice because it keeps me in the game. I just really enjoy making good plays; it makes the game fun.”
With the Badgers preparing to face Purdue this weekend, the third-place team in the Big Ten, Healy is glad her team has the opportunity to learn while winning.
“Even in these games, you can’t lose these games,” Healy said. “I think today just showed how special it is what we’ve put together this far. If you lose your focus for even a second you can slip into old ways. It’s a good lesson for us to learn midweek, because when we face Purdue we can’t make mistakes like we did.”