Do not expect the Wisconsin softball team (11-4 Big Ten, 27-13 overall) to take the pedal off the metal now that they are in the final stretch of the season and have a quick break from the Big Ten schedule. The Badgers hope to keep their four-game winning streak alive when they host the Indiana State Sycamores (13-7 Missouri Valley, 18-26 overall) Wednesday afternoon at Goodman Diamond.
Fresh off of their dominating sweep last weekend against Penn State, the Badgers will be taking the field against an unfamiliar foe, as Wednesday marks the first matchup between the two teams.
Wisconsin can expect it to be a little more difficult to score runs Wednesday compared to the last couple of weeks. The Sycamores boast senior pitcher Lindsey Beisser, who has an ERA of 1.85 despite having a 11-16 record this year.
“Indiana State has phenomenal pitching, so it’s going to be a tough battle,” head coach Yvette Healy said. “We’ve tried to schedule opponents that will challenge us, and for them to have an ace that has an ERA under two is a big deal. So we’re looking at it from a ‘very important game’ standpoint and we’re definitely not taking them lightly.”
Posing the biggest threat to Wisconsin pitchers is the Sycamore’s freshman third baseman Megan Stone and sophomore first baseman Shelby Wilson. Stone is hitting .352 while Wilson has knocked in 20 runs this year.
The Badgers defense has been flawless lately, committing only eight errors in their last 12 Big Ten games, including only one in last weekend’s series. This defense will have to be on the lookout Wednesday, as Healy said they like to utilize small ball.
“We know we have to defend, and especially against teams like Indiana State and Purdue,” she said. “They both pressure, bunt, they put the ball in play and they steal. So defense is a huge part of these next five games.”
After winning 13 of the last 14 games, the Badgers suddenly find themselves in a place that no current Badgers player has come close to experiencing—second place in the Big Ten standings.
For Wisconsin’s veterans, this is a new feeling according to Junior third baseman Shannel Blackshear.
“I would say it’s different, yeah,” she said. “I think the big thing for us is that we’re feeling loose, we’re feeling relaxed but we also still have a goal in mind. I think it’s starting to hit our team now that we’re doing so well. Everyone is starting to feel this pressure, but in a good way.”
The Badgers close out the Big Ten season with nine games against two of the three top teams after tomorrow, with two of series being away from home. But do not expect any of the Badger’s to treat Wednesday’s doubleheader as a tune-up for the brutal upcoming schedule.
“We’re not going to take it as an ‘oh we’re not in the Big Ten’ [game],” Blackshear said. “We look at every team as a competitor, we don’t take anything for granted and I think that is why we’re doing so well.”
Despite being right behind first-place Purdue in the Big Ten, coach Healy still thinks the young Badger team is taking on a role of a maturing team that still has plenty of room for improvement.
“The team’s worked really hard, but I still think that, in the end, we have an underdog mentality going,” Healy said. “You’d like to say that [the remainder of the regular season] is just going to be business as usual, but we actually understand that we have to step up our game a lot to maintain and keep having a chance at the postseason.”