It’s officially crunch time for IU softball as it visits Madison, Wisconsin, for a three-games against Wisconsin.
With just nine regular season games remaining before the Big Ten tournament gets underway, IU currently sits in seventh place in the conference standings and is No. 40 in the NCAA’s Rating Percentage Index.
The Hoosiers need every win they can get down the stretch in order to bolster their postseason hopes, but IU Head Coach Shonda Stanton doesn’t sound particularly worried.
“Right now, if the season ends today, I believe we’re in a position where someone’s saying ‘Indiana should be in,’” Stanton said. “I’m not concerned, I’m not worried. We’re going to take it one day at a time, one pitch at a time, and once we get to May, then we’ll take a look at it and say if we’ve done enough.”
This weekend’s matchup with Wisconsin, ranked No. 39 in RPI, will be the last higher-ranked foe it faces in the regular season, as its final two series come against Rutgers and Penn State, two teams whose RPI ranks outside the top 75.
IU and Wisconsin enter play with largely similar season profiles. Though the Hoosiers have eight more games under their belts, their 31-15 overall record and 6-8 conference record is comparable to the Badgers, who own a 30-8 overall record and are 7-5 in the Big Ten.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle in IU’s way this weekend is its lack of success on the road. IU is winless in six conference road games and looking to avoid its third-straight road sweep, while Wisconsin remains a perfect 5-0 in Madison against conference opponents.
“It doesn’t matter who we play, it’s just us against the yellow ball,” IU sophomore utility Maddie Westmoreland said. “Whatever we’ve go to do we’ll do, just take care of the little things.”
On both of sides of the ball, IU and Wisconsin’s team statistics mirror one another almost identically. The Hoosiers’ .300 batting average in conference play is good for third in the Big Ten, and the Badgers’ .292 batting average in conference play ranks fifth. Both teams are also tied for fourth in runs scored with 79 apiece.
The slugging department, led by junior utility Kayla Konwent and sophomore infielder Taylor Johnson, is where Wisconsin has a sizable advantage. Konwent’s 13 homers and 43 runs batted in, paired with a conference-leading .957 slugging percentage, make her one of the most feared hitters in the Big Ten. Meanwhile, Johnson leads Wisconsin with 35 runs and is second in batting average and on-base percentage.
“We really got to work ahead as pitchers,” Stanton said. “When you work ahead, that allows you to limit their best kids from going up their and free-swinging.”
IU’s pitchers will have to do just that if it wants to limit big innings. In the circle, the Badgers have a 2.65 earned run average in conference games, just topping the Hoosiers mark of a 2.76 earned run average.
For Wisconsin, junior Kaitlyn Metz and sophomore Haley Hestekin represent its best pitching combo, while IU will likely hand the ball to senior Tara Trainer and junior Emily Goodin for most, if not all, of the weekend.
IU’s play has been inconsistent this season, especially in Big Ten play, but this upcoming three-game might be its last chance to show the NCAA tournament committee why they deserve consideration for an at-large bid.
“I think our ball club has done a good job all year of taking a punch and throwing a punch back,” Stanton said. “We’ve got to start landing those jabs that hurt, and that’s what I want to see this weekend.”
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