Producing runs has not been a problem this year for the Wisconsin softball team (8-4 Big Ten, 24-13). Last weekend, in a 10-7 shootout win over the Fighting Illini of Illinois, the Badgers were able to generate offense on the back of a school-record six homeruns.
“The team really feeds off each other, once one person brings it together it inspires everyone else to swing from their heels,” head coach Yvette Healy said.
Although Wisconsin secured the rubber match in the three game series against Illinois, the Badgers were unable to keep their school-record nine game win streak intact.
“You hate to ever lose the winning streak, but to take two of three at Illinois was something our coaching staff was really pleased with,” Healy added.
Up next for Wisconsin is a Penn State squad (5-7, 13-23) that struggled in the beginning of the season, but is finding its stride, winning six of its last seven. After getting swept on the road against Michigan and Purdue, the Nittany Lions responded in the last two weeks with a sweep over Michigan State and taking two of three against a quality Indiana team.
“They have some big wins over Auburn and LSU this year so we know they can hang with the big teams,” senior first baseman Karla Powell said.
Penn State is a program that has historically had Wisconsin’s number. Of the past 37 meetings between the two programs, Penn State has won 25 of them.
“It’s always a duel against us and Penn State, last year we went to their place and had some upsets,” Powell said. “We’re hoping to come home and pick up a few wins.”
Revenge is going to be in the air this weekend as Healy indicated that the team is hungry to play a Penn State team that swept the Badgers in conference play and ended their season last year.
“This weekend is a key to being able to see if we have a chance at making a run at the end of the season.” Healy said.
The hot bats of the Wisconsin lineup will have to contend against a seasoned conference veteran in Penn State right-hander Lisa Akamine. Badger fans should not confuse Akamine’s subpar 7-16 record with poor quality, as her 4.85 earned run average combined with 127 strikeouts indicate that the Escondido, Calif. native is nothing to take lightly.
“In conference, Akamine is averaging a strike out per inning,” Healy said. “It’s going to be a real measuring stick of how much we’ve improved this year.”
Offensively, Penn State features a plethora of strong left-handed power hitters. Penn State junior outfielder Cassidy Bell has already posted five homeruns in the young Big Ten season. The Nittany Lions also boast sophomore catcher Kasie Hatfield, who last week was named Big Ten player of the week for her outstanding series against Indiana.
“We’re hoping to keep [Penn State] on their toes, keep them honest and keep them swinging,” junior catcher Maggie Strange said.