The Wisconsin softball team hopes to expand their 10-game winning streak to lucky number 13 this weekend hosting Purdue Boilermakers for a three-game series.
The Badgers (27-15, 9-5 Big Ten) defeated Penn State on the road this past weekend in a three-game series, with outstanding pitching from Taylor-Paige Stewart and Cassandra Darrah leading the way. Stewart and Darrah combined to allow just two runs and one walk between the two games of a doubleheader Saturday. Stewart struck out 7 batters on the way to a shutout in game one, while Darrah struck out 3 and kept Penn State to only 2 runs during game two. The tough pitching will need to continue to help the Badgers against the Boilermakers who hit the cover off the ball last Friday, racking up 14 hits for 11 runs in a shutout against Illinois.
Pitching is an important aspect of softball, to a point, as Badgers head coach Yvette Healy explained in a press conference Tuesday.
“You need to do everything well to [win consistent], though. You can’t just pitch to win games. You’ve got to pitch, you’ve got to hit, you’ve got to defend. To see it all come together a little bit makes a big difference,” Healy said.
Against the Boilermakers, the Badgers will need to play well in every aspect of the game. Purdue (24-21-1, 11-4 Big Ten) recently has not been as consistent as Wisconsin, but it has still won six of their last 10 games.
Purdue will be defending their 3rd place ranking in the Big Ten standings against Wisconsin.
The Badgers will need to subdue the Boilermakers bats this weekend. Katy McJunkin, named this week’s Big Ten Freshman of the Week for the second time this season, is a potent offensive threat for Purdue. Against Illinois last weekend, McJunkin batted .714 with four RBIs and a run scored. She’s batting .371 on the season, second only to senior Andie Varsho. Varsho, meanwhile, went 3-for-3 Friday, including a home run, and scored one of only two runs in the 3-2 loss against Illinois during their three-game series last weekend.
Regarding their upcoming series, Healy said, “We’re on the bubble right now. You get a chance to play Purdue, and they could be a bubble team too. It’s challenging, but I think it’s how the team plays best, when our backs are against the wall. With Purdue, you’ve got to go into this series with them in third place and realize just how exciting it is and how big it is.”
The Badgers have a formidable offense going into this weekend’s series. Senior Mary Massei holds the highest batting average and slugging percentage for Wisconsin with .393 and .704, respectively. Massei led the Badgers in batting during game two against Penn State with three hits, two of which were doubles resulting in two RBIs. Michelle Mueller, who holds Wisconsin’s second highest batting average (.353) and slugging percentage (.681), will also be a threat to the Boilermakers. Mueller has 10 home runs and 45 RBIs for the season, a major part of the Badgers offense.
“Michelle Mueller is a banged up kid. She’s hurting, she’s limping, she’s got that new brace, you see her, and she is just muscling through a lot of pain. And she goes head on into the wall,” Healy said.
“That kid’s got more heart than most players that you’re going to see in any sport. We tell everybody to play hard. And her, we tell her maybe don’t play so hard. I don’t know if I’ve said that in all the years that I’ve coached. That shows how hard she really plays.”
Mueller is one of four seniors, including Darrah, Massei and Stephanie Peace who will be honored on Sunday’s Senior Day.
Peace, Wisconsin’s short stop, has shown some power as well, with seven home runs this season. Although she might not have as prolific of a batting average, she and the other seniors have all put in their time and effort as Badgers.
“My favorite thing about them is that they all buy in. They’ve worked really hard, and they’ve made themselves into great players. That group, they just want it so bad,” Healy said.
“They’re disappointed if it’s not perfection. At Penn State we had to remind them how much they’ve achieved. I think we’re going to be working hard to keep them focusing and laughing and not let them get too emotional for this weekend.”
The first pitch for the Badgers will be thrown at 4 p.m. Friday to kick off the three-game series.