Hot bats lead softball into doubleheader pair

first_imgThere may only be one thing even hotter than Madison’s recent record-setting temperatures: the Wisconsin softball team.Fresh off a strong showing last weekend in Reno, Nev. – where the Badgers finished 4-1 – they head back west for the Gaucho Classic II in Santa Barbara, Calif.Joining the Badgers in Santa Barbara will be the host school, University of California-Santa Barbara, San Jose State and Oklahoma State. They will look to continue their winning ways, due in large part to great hitting.Wisconsin pounded out 41 runs over the five-game weekend, led by Molly Spence’s four home runs. Spence may have carried a majority of the load as Big Ten Player of the Week, but the hitting affair stretched team-wide, something Coach Yvette Healy was pleased to finally see.“I knew we had a good hitting team, it just hadn’t showed going into that weekend how strong we were,” Healy said. “It was fun to see them get some confidence and see some people really swing the bats.”Wisconsin will hope to extend those hot bats with victories Friday and Saturday in a pair of alternating doubleheaders against Santa Barbara and San Jose State. It can be asserted that any of these offensive spurts produced by the Badgers begins with leadoff hitter Mary Massei.The sophomore outfielder did not start the season at the top of the lineup, but has since been moved up with her ability to jump-start the offense. With a batting average of .361 and a team-high 22 hits, Massei has certainly been doing her job and cherishes her role, but remains humble in downplaying her success.“I like hitting leadoff; it’s a role I’ve learned to take on,” Massei said. “But I need to also learn that, anywhere in the lineup, I just need to continue and do the job that I have been doing.”If she can continue, the Badgers’ offense should keep the team competitive throughout the weekend.Santa Barbara, while 10-17 overall, owns a 5-1 home record, posing a concern for coach Healy.“They’re a California team that plays some really tough competition,” Healy said. “So I think with them being the home team, they’ll be tough.”Wisconsin will play two games against another California team, San Jose State, to finish out Friday and Saturday. The Spartans are 14-9 against non-ranked opponents and rely heavily on pitcher Amanda Pridmore and outfielder Michelle Cox. Pridmore and Cox lay the groundwork for a very balanced team that has won four of its last six, offering another intriguing matchup for the Badgers.“I think they’re going to be a good team, too,” Healy said. “They’ve got some good wins and have played some teams, too. I don’t think anyone is an easy matchup for us right now.”Similar to San Jose State, Wisconsin increased the balance of its own attack this past weekend, finding an ace in the hole with pitcher Amanda Najdek.Najdek, normally the go-to reliever for Wisconsin, jumped into a starting role Sunday and shut down the Nevada Wolfpack. Surrendering only one run on three hits, Najdek dominated.“We brought her in to keep the ball in the park, and she had a great showing,” Healy said. “She will definitely be looked at to start more games.”In addition to an error-free defense, having the coaches behind her gives Najdek even greater confidence in herself.“It definitely boosted my confidence,” Najdek said. “Now I just know that if I hit my spots through my lanes, good things will happen.”Between Najdek, Cassandra Darrah and Meghan McIntosh, the Badger pitchers will look to stop the similarly hot bats of Oklahoma State.The Cowgirls are riding a six-game winning streak and were ranked earlier this season. With three .300 hitters and two sub-three ERA pitchers (one of which threw a no-hitter last weekend), Oklahoma State likely provides the best competition for Wisconsin on the weekend.The Badgers will have to wait until Sunday to take on Oklahoma State, but will have to experiment with their offensive strategy, a situation they are certainly used to.“We’re going to have to be creative, just like last weekend,” Healy said. “We bunted, we slapped and we hit home runs.”Opportunities to play ranked teams do not come around too often in non-conference play, but they can show just how ready the Badgers are for the Big Ten schedule. With the Gaucho Classic II as their final non-conference tournament, their Sunday showing will likely go a long way in defining the rest of their season.“You don’t necessarily need to win those big games early,” Healy said. “But if you want to be an NCAA tournament team, those are the kind of games you do win.”last_img

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