After getting swept at the hands of the Nebraska Cornhuskers last week, the Wisconsin softball team (2-4 Big Ten, 23-6 overall) hopes to righten the ship Friday when the Iowa Hawkeyes (2-4, 8-21) travel to the Goodman Complex.
The Hawkeyes enter the weekend series fresh off their first conference series win. An impressive display of offense and pitching earned them two wins over the Purdue Boilermakers last weekend.
For many teams, coaches rely on their senior players not only to produce, but serve as role models for younger, less-experienced players. Iowa senior Kaitlyn Mullarkey has done just that, as she leads the team in batting average (.256) and runs batted in (12). Currently, she is tied for No. 13 in program history with 16 career home runs and is on pace to break other program records. Mullarkey also sits at 27 career doubles and can move into No. 15 in team history with four more.
Besides Mullarkey, junior Cheyenne Pratt has created chaos on the basepaths for opposing pitchers this season. She is 6-for-6 on steals this year and is a perfect 12-for-12 swiping bags in her career.
As a team, the Hawkeyes’ pitching is respectable despite their dismal record. They lead the conference in double plays per game with .62, forcing opponents into tough situations at the plate with runners on base. Their earned run average of 3.21 ranks No. 6 overall in the Big Ten, largely thanks to their five experienced starters returning from the 2015-’16 season.
For the Badgers, the Hawkeyes will be a formidable opponent. Wisconsin saw its Big Ten record slip against Nebraska and is still searching for its first home victory this year.
Senior Chloe Miller has opened the season on fire in 2017. She leads the Badgers with a whopping .511 batting average and is tied for the team lead in RBIs with 35.
The long ball has certainly helped the Badgers this spring. Eight players have recorded a home run this season and Miller sits at the forefront with seven.
On the pitching side, the Badgers feature workhorse freshman Kaitlyn Menz. Although she had a slight hiccup against Nebraska, Menz has been the ace for the team. This season, she has already pitched 117 innings and racked up 71 punchouts. As the schedule toughens, strong performances from fellow pitchers Mariah Watts and Angela Morrow will be critical to take some pressure off of Menz and senior Kristen Stevens.
On paper, both teams play similar styles. They are balanced and showcase efficient offense and pitching units. The key for this series will ultimately be defense, though. The Hawkeyes total 34 errors on the season while the Badgers have committed 35.
Last year, the Badgers won a 5-4 walk-off thriller over Iowa. However, the Hawkeyes ensured Wisconsin left the weekend with a foul taste in its mouth and took the series 2-1. In 2017, both teams have struggled in the Big Ten and are looking for statement wins.
The first game of the series opens Friday at 6 p.m. from the Goodman Diamond.