Today, Tech softball squares off against the Wisconsin Badgers at 2:00 PM in the Gainesville Regional of the NCAA Tournament. The Badgers are a perennial tournament team under coach Yvette Healy and feature an offense that has bats that can definitely do some damage. We spoke with Drew Hamm from our fellow SB Nation blog Bucky’s Fifth Quarter ahead of the game to preview his team and gauge his thoughts on the matchup. For the Tech-centric side of the Q&A, head over to Bucky’s Fifth Quarter next, and be sure to tune in to ESPNU this afternoon to watch the Jackets in their first regional appearance since 2012.
For our in-depth preview of the region and Tech’s prospects headed into the weekend, be sure to also check out this week’s episode of our Scions of the Southland podcast for more.
1) The Badgers have been pretty regular NCAA Tournament qualifiers under coach Yvette Healy. Is there a particular trait that has defined successful Wisconsin teams in the regular season or postseason in the past 12 seasons under Healy?
Wisconsin has, for the most part under Healy, been an offensive team. Almost all of the best offensive seasons, in any category, in program history have come under her watch. This year, the Badgers haven’t been an offensive juggernaut by any means, but they are able to string together some hits and put up a crooked number here and there.
The pitching for the Badgers has been...alright but nowhere near dominant, although Maddie Schwartz can shut down an offense, like she did against Minnesota in a 2-0 win in the Big Ten Tournament. So, UW is a balanced team with the capabilities of dominating at the plate or on the mound, but equally as likely to have an average showing.
2) What does the blueprint for a Wisconsin win in the Tech/Wisconsin opening game, or even a deeper tournament run, look like? Is there anything notable about this team in particular when compared to past seasons?
The Badgers need slugger Kayla Konwent to show up. She is the most dangerous hitter in the lineup, and has been for years (she was a unanimous All-American and Big Ten POTY in 2019 for instance). However, she hasn’t had a multi-hit game in her last 13 games and only has six RBI and three extra base hits (one double, two dingers).
If Konwent has a quiet game at the dish the Badgers most likely aren’t scoring runs and most likely not winning many games. On the other side of things, UW will need to be sharp in the field. They were one of the worst teams in the Big Ten in fielding percentage and don’t really have the luxury to be giving opponents extra outs.
3) With four hitters near or above the .300 mark, it seems like the Badgers have a lot of players that can keep a rally going. Is there a hitter with particular potential to break the game open with a single swing?
Konwent is that player in terms of putting a ball over the fence, but outfield Ally Miklesh (second on the team in batting average, on-base percentage, runs, walks) is the player who will need to take a single swing at the beginning of the game and try and get an early rally going.
The Badgers don’t do much on the base paths, but if anyone is going to steal a base it would probably be Miklesh.
4) Who is Tech likely to see in the circle for Wisconsin? What does an effective start look like for the pitching staff?
Schwartz will most likely be on the bump for the Badgers. She has started 28 games and completed 18 of them (three shutouts). On the season, she threw 200.1 innings (fourth most in the Big Ten) and only allowed six homers while notching a 2.38 ERA.
To be perfectly frank, an effective start for this staff looks like Schwartz going the distance because there aren’t a ton of other viable arms on the roster.
5) What is your prediction for the game? Is there anything from either team in particular you are excited to see on Friday afternoon?
Wisconsin is a patient team at the plate and if they can get a couple of runners on base early against Blake Neleman, they can maybe get out to an early lead and try to let Schwartz cook. I think this will be a low-scoring affair, with neither team scoring more than five runs.
I also think that we will know how the game will go after the first two innings. If the Badgers have no runs...then Georgia Tech is going to win. However, if Wisconsin gets a couple of runs on the board early I think the Badgers take it.
Thanks again to Drew and the crew at Bucky’s Fifth Quarter for the great insight on the Badgers, and remember to tune into ESPNU today at 2:00 PM. As always, go Jackets!