UW looks to continue hot streak at Illinois

first_imgShannel Blackshear has been solid for the Badgers this season with 18 RBIs off 28 hits in a total of 92 at bats. The junior third baseman said she believes the Badgers have a good chance to win every game.[/media-credit]The good times keep rolling for the Wisconsin softball team. Adding two more victories to their school record winning streak on Tuesday, the Badgers will look to maintain the pace against Illinois this coming weekend.The friendly confines of Goodman Diamond have treated the Badgers well, but if they are going to continue their winning ways, they will have to do so from Eichelberger Field in Urbana, Ill.Sitting at 6-3 in the Big Ten and 22-16 overall, Wisconsin has used its recent stretch of wins to stay in conference contention. The Badgers currently hold sole possession of fourth place, but will need another good weekend to hang around with the Big Ten’s elite.Wisconsin trails Purdue and Nebraska by a game each, with conference leader Michigan owning a two-game lead over the Badgers. With wins piling up, this team is confident facing any opponent.“Honestly, I think we have every chance to win every single game,” junior infielder Shannel Blackshear said. “This year, the biggest thing is we have been staying in games, and I think we are a force to be reckoned with.”As the wins keep coming, the pressure to keep it up increases. Only two Big Ten teams – Nebraska and Purdue – have had longer winning streaks this season and if Wisconsin were to sweep Illinois this weekend it would lay claim to the longest streak held in the conference.Although they were already a tight-knit group, winning has brought the Badgers even closer together in their efforts.“[Winning] adds a little bit of pressure, in a good way. It makes everybody understand that we are a better team,” Blackshear said. “It gives everyone an extra boost to want to work harder so we can keep winning.”Wisconsin not only has been beating teams, but they have also been beating the odds. Consecutively winning games is one thing, but repeatedly coming from behind to triumph is an entirely different issue.The Badgers have trailed in each of their last three games, but their resiliency and fight has kept them afloat just enough to squeak away with victories. This pattern, while paying off, is not the desired route for head coach Yvette Healy.“We don’t tell them to give up runs and come out slow,” Healy said. “As a coaching staff the big focus for this weekend is to come out sharp, right from the start.”They may need a quick start for most of the weekend, as Illinois (16-18, 2-7) lays claim to one of the best pitchers in the conference, Pepper Gay. Gay leads the Fighting Illini in innings pitched (132), complete games (12), and strikeouts (128), all the while owning a 1.75 ERA, good for third in the Big Ten. The Illinois pitching staff quickly drops off after Gay, however, so hitting her early will be the offensive focus.“The big thing with any pitcher is to just go after them,” Blackshear said. “When she’s on the zone we have to hit the ball and not give them anything extra.”Gay’s 11 wins on the season are good for seventh-best in the Big Ten, but that number could easily be near the 15-win mark if the Illinois bats begin to heat up.Over the last seven games, the Fighting Illini have tallied only four runs. A recent stretch of three games without scoring a single run makes for a very vulnerable opponent. Regardless of their recent struggles, Healy expects an aggressive offensive showing from Illinois.“Illinois has traditionally had a prolific offense, so they have the ability to hit,” Healy affirmed. “Even if they haven’t shown it as much in conference yet, they’re known as an offensive team.”Wisconsin will look to attack offensively as well, as their team hitting has been remarkable over the last few weeks. Since the beginning of its series with Northwestern, the team average has slowly risen 22 points, from .276 to .298.What is likely even more impressive is that these numbers are coming without the production of the injured Molly Spence. Spence leads the team in home runs (7) and slugging percentage (.605), while ranking second on the team with 23 RBIs.Out with an ankle injury for another weekend, the Badger lineup will have to band together again in her absence – a trademark over the last few weeks.“It’s always hard to replace a kid like Molly. She is probably the best hitter on our team,” sophomore Michelle Mueller said. “[Since her injury] we have all taken it on ourselves. We know that when one kid goes down, all nine of us have to pick it up.”And that is exactly what they have done. With amplified performances from each piece of the lineup, the Wisconsin softball team is right where they want to be, heading into another Big Ten weekend.“We’re in a good place right now,” Healy said. “This team is real streaky and when one person hits, a lot of them do, and they feed off each other.”last_img

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