May 16, 2012
| Season Notes
|• Badgers finish with 34-19 record
|• 13 Big Ten wins are most ever at UW
|• School record: .300 batting average, .385 on base percentage, .426 slugging percentage
|• Records most runs (272), doubles (73) and RBI (230) in school history
• Final notes | Final statistics
MADISON, Wis.--The challenge to the players was set a year ago by head coach Yvette Healy.
"We talked a lot about work ethic in the summer and working harder on their own outside of the season," Healy recalled. "There were a lot of players that we were really honest with where they were falling short, from a physical stand point, and they really responded nicely.
"I think across the board, a lot of key players made big strides, and I think a lot of that was us challenging them to say -- How much harder can you work and do you have a plan for getting better?"
After starting the season with an 11-9 record in the first 20 games, the Badgers appeared to be in for an average season.
Wisconsin was batting .281 as a team with a 2.63 ERA heading into a grueling Big Ten Conference schedule.
"The beginning was definitely tough," Healy continued. "We faced some tough competition early on and I don't think we swung the bats or pitched that well in the early part of the season.
We went back to the drawing board with a lot of stuff. Offensively, we worked on putting the ball in play and advancing runners, working hard to create some offense with our speed and that paid off."
A trip to Iowa made fans take notice.
Cassandra Darrah pitched a three-hit shutout on the way to a 1-0 Badger victory in game one. It was a pitchers' duel and Wisconsin came out on top.
Three Wisconsin errors in the second game led to a 4-3 Iowa win, but Darrah and her teammates bounced back to take the series with a 5-4 win in game three.
Darrah pitched every inning of every game of the series.
"(Darrah's) from Iowa; I think she was really focused going in there," Healy said. "She was really efficient in those games and I think that was key this year, when she was good, she was efficient."
Wisconsin returned to Madison to open the home season against Northwestern, winning the first game in six innings before dropping the series with a pair of losses.
"It was great that we got the win against them," Healy said. "We were really excited to come out strong, which I thought we did, but they're a quality ball club and they've got a phenomenal offense.
"Seeing the way (Northwestern) approach hitting and the joy they take in it, how hard they hit the ball -- putting it over the fence -- really opened out team's eyes about what they could be doing offensively and the offense really exploded after that."
A spring break trip to Chicago was just what the Badgers needed. Wisconsin started what turned into a school record nine-game win streak with a 5-0 win over UIC. Two more wins at Loyola and the Badgers were rolling.
The Badgers returned home for a three-game series against Minnesota and took all three games. The series finale featured Wisconsin's biggest comeback win in school history when, after trailing 10-2, the Badgers scored nine unanswered runs to claim an 11-10 victory.
Following the sweep over Minnesota, Darrah and shortstop Stephanie Peace became the first UW duo to earn Big Ten honors in the same week. Darrah finished with a 4-0 record, allowing just one earned run in 28 innings of work with a 0.25 ERA.
Peace hit .625 in six games, recording a 1.375 slugging percentage and posting a .700 on-base percentage. The shortstop came up big in Wisconsin's historic come-from-behind victory over the Gophers, going 4-for-4 at the plate with a pair of doubles and a home run.
A pair of midweek wins and a series-opening victory at Illinois gave the Badgers a program best nine-game win streak.
"It was fun to see the offense catch fire and get some momentum and put together a winning streak."
During the nine-game win streak, Wisconsin batted .331 with a 2.15 ERA.
Wisconsin returned to Madison from Champaign with an 8-4 Big Ten record and prepared to host Penn State in a three-game series, where they once again made history.
For the first time since the 1997 season, the Badgers swept the Nittany Lions, posting a pair of run-rule victories for the first time ever.
"Penn State is a legacy program and all year long we faced a lot of teams with a lot of history and we also faced teams that have beaten Wisconsin for a lot of years," Healy said. I think changing that culture is about going head to head with those teams who have historically had our number."
After five Big Ten Conference series, Wisconsin held an impressive 11-4 league record with its biggest tests remaining -- Purdue, Michigan and Nebraska.
Wisconsin won its 12th Big Ten game of the year at Purdue, breaking the school record for most Big Ten wins in a single season.
A series loss against the Boilermakers set the table for a showdown for first place against No. 23 Michigan at Goodman Diamond.
The Wolverines won the first two games against the Badgers and the third game was rained out.
"Our team got better from the first to the second game offensively," Healy said. We did a better job against their number one, we swung the bats better, and I think everyone wanted another shot at it."
UW traveled to Nebraska for the final regular-season series of the year and rained on the Huskers' parade by beating them in the first game and to snap their 16-game home win streak, the longest in the nation.
"I don't think you can say enough about how big that first game at Nebraska was for us," Healy said. "It was one of the biggest wins of the year for our program. It was a huge stride for use to be able to beat Nebraska for the first time ever and to be able to do it at their place, I couldn't be more proud. It was one of the proudest moments of the year."
Wisconsin's win over Nebraska was its 34th of the year, tying the most in school history.
The Badgers fought through a 6-4 loss to the Huskers and then had the bases loaded in the seventh in the final game before ultimately falling, 4-1.
"In the second game we had a chance to keep pressing," Healy reflected. "We left the door open and they took full advantage. I think it shows you how fleeting those opportunities are against great teams. You have chances, but if you don't capitalize on them and take it when they're there, they'll take it right back.
"It was a good learning experience. The game was down to the wire they fought the whole way. I am pleased that the team had a sense of urgency and they understood how big the games were. They got to play in a real pressure environment and you can't create that."
After finishing the season with a 34-19 record, Wisconsin's postseason fate was left up to the NCAA selection committee. With a final RPI ranking of 54, the Badgers were left out of the NCAA tournament.
"Getting together at the end of the year and being so close to being selected was really painful for them," Healy said." We have a lot of emotionally invested players and I think that's a huge motivation for them on their own."
With just one senior, Karla Powell, graduating, the Badgers are poised to make another run.
"Our challenge is to remember that heartache and to not get past it so quickly, but to be motivated by it."