Wisconsin (3-14 Big Ten, 19-28 overall) will play their final home games of the season in a doubleheader Wednesday against rival Minnesota (15-3, 41-8).
The Badgers are excited to face the nationally ranked Gophers.
“I’m looking forward to the opportunity to play a Top 25 team. That’s really exciting and I’m real pumped for that,” said freshman pitcher Mariah Watts. “I’m not going to let the fact that they are currently No. 12 faze me or anything like that.”
The rivalry that exists between Minnesota and Wisconsin is just as prevalent in softball as it is in all other sports. This is especially true given the Badgers split their doubleheader with the Gophers last season, winning game one 2-1 and losing the finale 3-0.
“Every year I think it’s a battle. I mean I’m from Chicago, but I know there’s a rivalry between Minnesota and the Badgers so it’s always a really good game playing Minnesota,” said senior outfielder Marissa Mersch. “In the past it’s always been really fun. Minnesota is a great team so it will be a test but we’re excited.”
Watts anticipates the excitement and the nervousness that surround this matchup will improve her performance. Watts currently has an ERA of 5.42 and has struck out 41 batters this season.
“I’m looking forward to good competition and good hitters. It’s funny because I think about teams that make me really nervous, and the more nervous I get, the better I play,” said Watts. “Like with Nebraska and Illinois, going into those games I knew that those teams were going to come out and play and [are] going to come out and play hard and just hearing it reiterated by the coaches just really kept me focused on how I’m going to play.”
UW will face Minnesota sophomore pitcher Sara Groenewegen, who boasts a 1.59 ERA and 285 strikeouts in 35 appearances this season. Groenewegen earned Big Ten Pitcher of the Year and the Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors last season. She pitched against the Badgers in the second game of the doubleheader last season, allowing two hits and striking out nine in a dominant shutout performance.
This season, Groenewegen has struck out more batters than the entire Wisconsin pitching staff combined (183).
“She’s going to be good, and I think she’s really going to test our offense and everything,” Mersch said about Groenewegen. “But, I think we just have to take steps and all have a good sound approach in the box against her.”
Wisconsin will indeed be tested as they face the Gophers, who currently stand in second place in the Big Ten behind Michigan. Minnesota’s three conference losses are courtesy of a pair of losses to Michigan and one to Nebraska.
Wisconsin was swept in their most recent series against Nebraska, losing two of the three games by eight runs or more, and aim to break its five-game losing streak Wednesday.
The first game will start at 4:30 p.m. with the second game scheduled to follow its conclusion.