Important wouldn’t really give credit to the magnitude of the situation. Epic wouldn’t really be a fair assessment either. Neither would crucial, which downplays the timeliness of the upcoming weekend.
The Wisconsin softball team (12-8 Big Ten, 33-17 overall) begins a monster weekend three-game series Saturday against Nebraska (12-8, 31-21) that will most likely determine the postseason futures of both teams. By dropping two games against the likely Big Ten champion Michigan last weekend, Wisconsin was knocked out of the conference title race.
“You learn a lot about how a team will bounce back,” sophomore shortstop Stephanie Peace said. “We won’t see our true spirit until we come out against Nebraska.”
As the Badgers hit the road they will be entering a tough road environment in Lincoln, Neb., where the Badgers were swept in two games the last time they played there in 2010. The Cornhuskers have a perfect 13-0 record at home this season and have been a completely different team playing at home.
The Cornhuskers’ inaugural Big Ten season had its ups and downs. That trend continued last weekend as Nebraska was swept by an average Indiana squad, so they will undoubtedly be hungry to get some conference wins against the Badgers. Taking the series in Lincoln will be no small task for a Badger team that has struggled at times on the road this season.
“We’re going to try and mix up our approach by doing some small ball, show our power,” sophomore outfielder Mary Massei said. “It would be a great feeling to take that undefeated record away.”
The Wisconsin lineup will be running into a tough right-handed senior in Nebraska’s Ashley Hagemann. The Elkhorn, Neb., native is sporting a 12-6 record this season and an impressive 2.66 earned run average. Hagemann has been consistently tough against lineups, racking up 301 strikeouts this season.
“[Hagemann] has a low screw against that goes away from leftys,” Massei said. “She can be pretty dominant on that pitch so it will be really important to be aggressive.”
This weekend has more implications than most softball games around the nation. Both teams are considered to be on the bubble for the NCAA tournament. Similar to the format of college basketball, softball features a 64-team field composed of 30 conference champions and 34 at-large berths. Already eliminated from conference contention and sitting with identical conference records, the winner of the upcoming series between the Badgers and Cornhuskers this weekend will undoubtedly have an edge over the other in the selection committee’s eyes.
“There are a lot of teams that will do things this weekend that will affect us that are out of our control,” head coach Yvette Healy said. “But the Nebraska series is the one thing we can control so that’s what we’re focused on.”
Still, even with the uncertainty of the Badgers’ postseason hopes, the players and coaches insist that there is no other position they would rather be in heading towards the postseason. The Badges have been a team that has thrived off of chemistry and momentum all season long. With a chance to prove their place in the tournament on the field this weekend, Healy’s tight bunch is embracing the opportunity.
“We have great team camaraderie,” Massei said. “These girls are my best friends and there isn’t anyone else I would rather be on the field with for what we have coming up.”
Steven Rosenbaum contributed to his report