The Wisconsin softball team (2-1 Big Ten, 13-10 Overall) hosts Big Ten rival Northwestern (0-3, 12-17) in the team’s home opener at Goodman Diamond.
The Badgers will finally play home games this weekend after 23 games and six weeks on the road to start the season.
“We’re excited to have our student-athletes back home, to sleep in our own beds and start playing in front of our Wisconsin fans,” head coach Yvette Healy said.
Healy also talked about the tougher schedule that Wisconsin has played this year, and the higher number of top-25 opponents that they faced in pre-season play.
She attributes some of the Badgers success so far to pitching coach Tracie Adix.
“She’s just done a great job…she works very hard, and [the pitchers] have made big strides,” Healy said.
The Badgers are also coming off a close 2-1 split in a series against Iowa last weekend, where sophomore pitcher Cassandra Darrah threw twenty innings in three complete games, all of which were decided by one run.
Darrah’s 2.30 earned run average is the fifth best among Big Ten pitchers, while freshman center fielder Maria Van Abel currently sits on top of the Big Ten with a .455 batting average.
“When we recruited [Maria] we said you could be this kind of player and really walk in the door and do something,” Healy said. “She's had a huge learning curve, and it's all attributed to how hard that kid works.”
Northwestern sophomore infielder Marisa Bast is a close second in the Big Ten with a .434 batting average, and is presently holds the conference’s third best on base percentage with a .795.
The Wildcats improved to 12-17 overall with a 7-2 win in their own home opener Tuesday night against Illinois-Chicago.
Northwestern sophomore pitcher Sammy Albanese hit her first career home run in the sixth inning, then entered the circle in the seventh to end the game with a pair of strikeouts and a groundout.
The Wildcats are tied with Michigan and Penn State for last place in the Big Ten with a 0-3 conference record, while the Badgers are with Ohio State and Illinois in a three-way tie for second place.
Last year the Badgers split a close doubleheader with Northwestern, rebounding from an 8-2 deficit in the fifth inning to tie the record for biggest comeback and stun the Wildcats 9-8. Wisconsin then fell 2-0 in the second game with only three hits off Albanese.
Healy emphasized the improvement needed for Wisconsin to turn the corner and be more than a “split team.”
“We’re looking for a little more grit, and we’re starting to get it,” Healy said of the attitude needed to win multiple games in a series. “They’re starting to put in the time and effort. They’re really emotionally invested in it.”
The Badgers kick off their series with the Wildcats with a doubleheader Saturday at 12 p.m., and close out the three-game series Sunday at 2 p.m. in a game that will be televised on the Big Ten Network.