When Badger softball players see Illinois (2-10 Big Ten, 18-18 overall) on the schedule, they have a good reason to get excited.
Including this weekend’s three-game sweep, Wisconsin (6-5, 22-15) has beaten the Fighting Illini in the last seven games over the course of three seasons.
The first game Friday featured an abundance of hitting by the Badgers, but very little scoring, with UW winning 3-2. The Badgers loaded the bases in the first, second and fourth innings without scoring a run.
While they struggled to drive in the runs early, they also loaded the bases in the fifth and seventh, scoring two and one run respectively.
“Of course you want to push runs across when you’ve got chances, but we always talk about pressure and what that does,” head coach Yvette Healy said. “I think the fact that we were able to put people on like that the whole game kept the pressure on them.”
If scoring was sparse in the first game, the second game was the exact opposite, with the Badgers winning 10-3.
This was due mostly to senior third baseman Michelle Mueller hitting three home runs and knocking in eight RBIs, breaking the previous Wisconsin single game record of seven by Molly Spence in 2010.
Hitting home runs isn’t usually UW’s forte, as they generally favor a small ball approach with a lot of singles and stolen bases.
“Small ball creates chaos, and luckily for the hitters when that happens, we have the chance to put the ball over the fence because pitchers are frustrated, so they leave one hanging,” Mueller said.
Mueller’s first home run of the night was a two run bomb that came in the first inning, setting the tone for the rest of the night. She came up again in the second inning after senior outfielder Mary Massei and senior shortstop Stephanie Peace were walked, and proceeded to make Illinois junior pitcher Shelese Arnold pay with a three-run moonshot.
The Badgers had a 5-3 lead the next time Mueller came up to bat, but she showed no mercy with a two-run homer that smacked off the top of the scoreboard.
Healy gave credit to Mueller, but also emphasized the fact that her whole team played well.
“If you’re able to get pressure it gives your big hitters an opportunity to do what Mueller did,” Healy said. “She hit three home runs, but they weren’t solo home runs. It’s a dagger when you’ve got those runners on base.”
Saturday, the teams took the field for the final game of the series and Wisconsin squeaked out the win, 3-2.
UW took control in the first inning, scoring two runs thanks to a rally from the top of the lineup, but the bats went cold after that.
Illinois scored one run in both the second and third innings to tie the game at two apiece. The Badgers offense couldn’t muster up another run until the sixth inning when sophomore second baseman Ashley Van Zeeland hit a chopper up the middle, and beat out the throw to first. The infield single sent a familiar face home; Mueller scored the winning run.
In both of the Badgers’ 3-2 wins, senior pitcher Cassandra Darrah was able to get the win in a low scoring affair. She pitched complete games in both of her appearances, bringing her to 19 on the season. She leads the Badgers with 13 wins and holds a 2.66 ERA.
The Badgers have a Wednesday night doubleheader at home against UW-Green Bay (3-2, 14-7). The first game begins at 3 p.m. with the second starting 20 minutes after the first game ends.