Home runs, balls that split the gap and bang off the wall are one of the most exciting aspects of softball. With a 27-8 record, the University of Wisconsin softball team has been doing quite a bit of that. But there is a small part of the game people overlook simply because it does not seem like much at the time. While the Badgers’ bats often explode for a number of runs, it is their plate appearances that allow the offensive surge to take place.
Second baseman, Kelsey Jenkins, serves as one of the most dangerous hitters in Wisconsin’s arsenal. The Arizona native already owns a .370 batting average, but the junior does something else just as helpful: She walks. A lot. So much so that she leads the team and the Big Ten in the statistic.
“I like to see a lot of pitches,” Jenkins said. “The deeper I get in the count, the more confident I get that I can draw a walk or potentially get a hit. I try to think of two positive things that can happen from watching more pitches.”
The leadoff hitter for the Badgers has taken the lead for walks in Wisconsin program history in just her third season of play with 135. In fact, it only took her 120 career games to take the lead over Stephanie Peace, who played for Wisconsin from 2011-14.
Jenkins tied the record February 25 against Hofstra in her 119th career game. She then took the record the following day in a game against Rutgers. Jenkins led the game with a seven-pitch at bat, working a full count before being awarded first base for career walk number 99, surpassing Peace.
Jenkins finest moment of making a pitcher work came from a game against the Nebraska Cornhuskers, in which she came to bat five times but only recorded one at bat because she walked the four other times. Jenkins saw a total of 28 pitches in those five at bats.
Jenkins leads the team in base on balls, with 35 for the season following the series against Purdue. Chloe Miller, who leads the team in batting average, slugging, on-base percentage, homers and RBIs, is 12 behind Jenkins for walks. But Jenkins said having Miller and another strong hitter in Brooke Wyderski batting behind her helps her approach.
“It opens it up for more walks,” Jenkins said. “I have a trust in them that if I do get on, one of them will get me in.”
The strategy works well because Jenkins leads the team in runs scored with 42, which gives her a slight edge over Miller, who has 41.
Hitting coach Danielle Zymkowitz said she sees Jenkins’ good eye as the beginning of a domino effect with the bats of Miller, Wyderski and Sara Novak following behind her.
“Because [Jenkins] is on base, I think Chloe gets better pitches,” Zymkowitz said. “With our top four hitters, you can’t pitch around them. So when Wyderski is hitting behind Chloe, it’s just going to trickle down.”
Jenkins already hits the ball well and will occasionally show a little power, collecting 6 homers on the year, which is tied for second on the team. This is something Jenkins and Zymkowitz have been trying to expand.
The practice has paid off for Jenkins, who is tied for 13th for batting average and ranks fifth in on base percentage in the Big Ten.
“She has been swinging more aggressively in those hitter’s counts,” Zymkowitz said. “She works on her swing for two hours every day, yet she draws walks. I tell her to use her swing, and now it’s just getting her feeling comfortable doing it.”
The team saw some results in exciting fashion a few weeks ago when the team played the Iowa Hawkeyes. Trailing 4-1 in the fifth inning and a runner on, Jenkins, again, worked the at bat to a full count.
During the at bat, she sent a towering fly to left field that cleared the fence by 20 feet, but was clearly foul. Then on the seventh pitch, Jenkins sent a line drive shot to the same side of the field that stayed fair this time for the opposite field home run.
Jenkins’ on base percentage of .515 has rubbed off on the rest of the team to help them earn a team average of .400, which outnumbers their season opponents’ average of .333. Wisconsin also owns a total of 174 walks, 64 more than their opponents total on the season.
Look for the strong Badger offense to carry them into the postseason, where they could make a lot of noise.