This time last year, the Wisconsin softball team was about to enter into the first round of the Big Ten Tournament to take on Northwestern. The 2013 roster easily defeated the Wildcats 3-0 and went on to walk over both Michigan and Minnesota in two 9-3 victories to win the conference tournament for the first time in program history. This time around, the Badgers don’t take the field until the quarterfinals, in which they’ll take on either Michigan State or Northwestern.
Senior infielder Stephanie Peace reflected on this time of the year, when the 2013 roster was preparing to attend the Big Ten Conference Tournament for the first time, saying that last season’s experience could play to Wisconsin’s advantage this weekend.
“Last year we had older girls, but we hadn’t been there before and it was just kind of a find out what we were doing,” Peace said. “This year we know what we’re going into. We’ve been to a conference tournament, and the experience is helpful.”
Fresh off a 2-1 series victory against sixth-ranked Michigan, Wisconsin (33-17, 15-7 Big Ten) learned three of its players earned all-conference awards. Mary Massei received first-team All-Big Ten, and Michelle Mueller and Taylor-Paige Stewart received second-team All-Big Ten.
With the regular season over, Wisconsin is looking to keep the momentum going this weekend, with hopes that the big end-of-season wins could be exactly what the Wisconsin bench needs to jump-start a tournament run.
“We’re playing really good competition here at the end of the season, and it’s right where we want to be as far as wins and losses,” Peace said. “We’re getting better every day and working hard.”
Peace continued to explain the Badgers know they’ll be facing the toughest of the competition this weekend and are preparing themselves to hit the ground running.
“We’re going to have to be ready for all the speed of the potential teams that we’re going to face,” she said. “We can’t dwell on errors that might occur. You mess up, it doesn’t matter, you still have to get ready for the next pitch.”
But the competition has been working hard, too. Northwestern (32-15, 14-9), which is the higher seed in its first-round matchup with No. 12 seed Michigan State, is seeded just behind UW at No. 5 in the conference and has had a similar season to the Badgers.
Four Wildcats made the Big Ten First and Second team rosters (two on each), and they’ve been able to get at least one win against three of the Big Ten’s top four teams, including Nebraska, Minnesota and Wisconsin.
The Wildcats and Badgers last met in mid-March when Northwestern walked away with a 2-1 series victory. But all three games were neck-and-neck as none of the games were decided by more than two runs. Freshman Chloe Miller says Wisconsin’s previous meeting with Northwestern will help ensure it is ready.
“We feel pretty prepared,” Miller said. “We saw [Northwestern] a couple months ago, and I think we’ve really grown since we last saw them so we have a lot of confidence going into the game, and it really couldn’t have played out any better.”
The winner of the Friday night’s game between Wisconsin and either Northwestern or Michigan State will advance to the semifinals the following evening, against the winner between No. 1 seed Michigan and either Iowa or Illinois. However the weekend plays out, the Badgers know they’ll have their work cut out for them.
“We’re just trying to play really good softball, play our style of ball all weekend long,” Peace said. “Whoever steps on the field against us, we’re going to give them our best game.”