Softball: Vasquez plays through pain

Second baseman will start despite suffering from a broken rib

MADISON — Athena Vasquez was not supposed to take the field last weekend for the University of Wisconsin softball team. But there she was, in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament in Ann Arbor, Mich., starting at second base and hitting her second home run of the season.

Vasquez broke a rib two weeks ago at Minnesota and missed the first game of the Big Ten Tournament, UW's quarterfinal win over Ohio State. But she simply could not be kept out of the lineup the next day.

"She was in a tremendous amount of pain," head coach Karen Gallagher said. "But this kid has gone through some tremendous injuries this year that she just amazes me how fast she's back out on the field. She's mentally tough, I guess is the key word, somebody that can kind of overcome injuries like that. It's more of a mental thing because physically you know she is still struggling a little bit. But she wants to play. She wants to be a part of it."

Vasquez has also been playing well. After hitting .137 with zero RBIs in the first 32 contests this season, she has hit .340 (16 of 47) with 12 RBI in her last 19 games. She is also considered one of UW's best defensive players.

"Her game was coming around," Gallagher said. Vasquez's attitude, her coach said, was, "‘I want to do it, I have all summer to rest and get healthy and my body still can do what it has to do.'

"She's out here. She's going to be playing for us. She got up in the Michigan game and hit a home run and got up there and took some hacks and got a hold of one over the left field fence… You need kids like that on the team that are just going to kind of inspire other players as well."

Vasquez's home run was one the few bright spots in a 10-1 loss to Michigan last Saturday, but UW was still able to reach the tournament, perhaps on the back of its quarterfinal win. The Buckeyes, who finished fourth in the conference to the Badgers' fifth but lost three times to UW this season, did not receive an NCAA Tournament bid.

"They knew that was an important game for us to win in the Big Ten Tournament and they went out and did it," Gallagher said.

Gallagher did not feel comfortable allowing Vasquez to play in that game last Friday, but the sophomore will be ready to go this weekend, as she was against Michigan, broken rib and all.

"I just felt like she wasn't moving as well as I would have liked her to," Gallagher said of the Ohio State game. "She just seemed a little tentative. I thought, you know, we have Kaitlin Reiss, who's really stepped up and done a great job for us all year. So we put [Reiss] in and she was fine."

"[Vasquez] is a pretty tough kid," Gallagher said.

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