The 2013 Badgers softball team has been one of the biggest and most underreported stories of the sporting year and part of that is our fault. With the focus on UW's NCAA tournament birth and a new regime in place for football this spring, the coverage of softball has been lacking.
However, it's a team that has made people sit up and take notice to say the least. They've been ranked in the top 25 on multiple occasions this season and have already shattered the school record for wins with a current 38-9 overall record. Their run in the Big Ten has been equally impressive as they currently sit 2nd behind national power Michigan with a 15-5 record.
That's all well and good, but the most impressive part of all of this is the fact that this team fought through some adversity and didn't fold their season. The credit for that goes to a senior class that's set all sorts of records and continues to break them on a consistent basis. Wisconsin features seven graduating seniors (Molly Spence, Maggie Strange, Megan McIntosh, Whitney Massey, Kelsey Horton, Kendall Grimm, and Shannel Blackshear) who will take to Goodman Diamond for one last time this weekend as they face the Spartans of Michigan State for the regular season finale.
After sweeping Illinois and taking two of three from Iowa on back-to-back road trips to open conference play Wisconsin stood 5-1 in the B1G and looking good.
What happened next could've sunk some teams, as the Badgers would go on to lose four of their next six games in conference play. In fact they went 1-2 against rival Minnesota and then dropped two of three to No. 22 Nebraska the next weekend - some lost hope that this would be anything but another promising season gone array when Big Ten challenges came at the Badgers.
Those kind of results, especially on the road can wear on a team. However, after playing 38 games away from the confines of Goodman Diamond on the shores of Lake Mendota this team was about as battle tested as they come and thanks to the leadership of the senior class, one that had won 131 games up to that point, they weren't going to let things fall apart.
Not surprisingly things turned around almost immediately following the string of series losses to the Gophers and Huskers thanks to finally being at home.
Since returning home on April 16th the Badgers played seven straight at Goodman Diamond and quickly got back on track, going 6-1 in those games and 9-1 overall in the past ten contests.
They've done it with a turnaround in both pitching at hitting to say the least. During the bad times the Badgers still managed to win more than they lost, going 7-6 over a 13 game stretch that included a loss to in-state rival Green Bay in there. In the six losses during that stretch the Badgers offense managed a grand total of five runs scored (0.8 runs per loss), while giving up 29 runs to their opponents (4.8 runs per loss).
Since that time though the Badgers have clamped down on the runs allowed and their offense has come to life too. Wisconsin is averaging 5 runs per game in their last nine, while only giving up an average of 2 runs per game to their opponents.
Credit goes all around on this one, but it doesn't hurt that the Badgers rank 2nd in the Big Ten in team batting average (.429), are 1st in team pitching (1.78ERA), have allowed the fewest earned runs (81) and total runs (107) in the conference and have one Mary Massei leading the way offensively.
Massei, one of the most feared hitters in the conference and just a junior, is 6th in the Big Ten in batting average (.429), 1st in hits (69), 2nd in doubles (15), and 5th in total bases (108) and that's just her numbers. Seniors Kendall Grimm and Whitney Massey have been massive helps offensively as well. Massey leads the Big Ten in doubles, just ahead of Massei by one and is batting .345 for the season so far. Grimm on the other hand is 2nd on the team in batting average at a robust .385 and the speedy outfielder is also 2nd in stolen bases with 13 on the year.
On Saturday and Sunday the Badgers have a chance to lock up the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten tournament by winning out and hoping for a Nebraska loss along the way, but no matter if they are 2nd or 3rd, this senior class has thrown down the gauntlet to all that come after them - Wisconsin is a winning program and you better not screw that up.
It's amazing for a program that was coming off of back-to-back 15 win seasons before the seven saviors and Yvette Healy arrived on campus. A birth in the College Softball World Series could well be in reach for the Badgers if they can at least make it out of the 1st round of the Big Ten tournament and that would be one heck of a feat for where this program was just four years ago.