Softball: Regional preview

In double elimination affair, Wisconsin could get a taste of all three visitors for NCAA Regional

MADISON — The University of Wisconsin softball team is seemingly in an enviable position this weekend. Though the Badgers are the third seed in the four-team NCAA Regional that will be played at Goodman Diamond here Friday through Sunday, they have the benefit of playing at home and of having first-hand knowledge of two of the three teams that stand between them and a berth in next week's Super Regional.

"The locale that we're at is definitely an advantage for us," senior infielder Meghann Reiss said. "I think just not having to travel, to sleep in our own beds, just get here, play at our own field. It's all familiar things. So I think we definitely have the advantage."

Wisconsin (31-22 overall, 11-9 Big Ten) will open the regional when it hosts second-seeded and No. 23 ranked DePaul (40-18, 19-5 Conference USA) at 5 p.m. Friday. Top seeded Oregon State (40-14, 13-8 Pac-10) matches up with No. 4 seed UW-Green Bay (26-16, 13-5 Horizon League) at approximately 7:30 p.m. Friday.

DePaul is the only team in the regional UW has not faced this academic year. The Badgers lost to Oregon State, the No. 8 overall seed in the 64-team tournament and No. 6 ranked team in the country, 8-7 in eight innings Feb. 25. Back in September, UW swept Green Bay in a fall season exhibition doubleheader.

But at this point in the season the Badgers are more concerned with maintaining a consistent, high level of play than with scouting reports.

"Just coming out and playing our game is what's going to get us anywhere," said sophomore center fielder Sam Polito, who, along with Reiss, is one of the Badgers' four captains.

"You try to not get too involved with [scouting reports]," UW head coach Karen Gallagher said. "At this point the kids have to perform and they have to adjust with each at-bat or with each inning."

There will be at least two games worth of adjustments for each team in this weekend's double-elimination affair. Three games will be played Saturday, beginning at noon, and at least one game will be played Sunday, with first pitch at 11 a.m.

"I think they are feeling really confident right now going into this tournament," Gallagher said. "Being at home is just a tremendous boost for us as well… We didn't have to get on a bus or get on a plane and fly across country. I think the kids are really relaxed and loose and… they are ready to go."

Gallagher sees a number of similarities between her squad and DePaul. Like the Badgers, the Blue Demons are a strong offensive team with a solid, if not overpowering, pitching staff. DePaul has three players batting .325 or better and two with more than 35 RBIs. Opponents' earned run average against DePaul is 3.58, while the Blue Demons' pitching staff boasts a 1.83 mark.

Blue Devil senior first baseman Saskia Roberson (.349 batting average, 13 home runs, 37 RBI), freshman utility player Sandy Vojik (.283, 2, 10) and sophomore pitcher Tracie Adix (22-7, 1.90 ERA) were named second-team All-Mideast Region. Sophomore pitcher Megan Huitink is 18-10 with a 1.41 ERA while senior outfielder Ashley Parker is batting .353.

UW and DePaul have not faced each other since 1999; the Blue Demons hold a 3-1 edge in the series.

"I think it will come down to the wire," Gallagher said. "I think whoever plays the best defense is who is going to win."

Despite traveling across country to join an otherwise truly regional affair, Oregon State is the favorite to advance to the Super Regional. The Beavers finished the season in a four-way tie for first place in the Pac-10, earning the league's automatic bid by virtue of a tiebreaker.

OSU boasts the Pac-10's Pitcher of the Year in sophomore Brianne McGowan, who is 33-8 with a 1.72 ERA. Second-team all-league selections first baseman Vanessa Iapala (.294, 3, 20) and outfielder Adrienne Alo (.264, 13, 29) and honorable mention choice catcher Lisa Allen (.306, 10, 31) lead an offense that averaged nearly four runs per game. In their meeting in February, Alo hit a three-run walk-off home run to beat the Badgers.

"We lost to them by one run," Gallagher said. "Going into this game I think the kids know that they can compete against them and potentially beat them."

"I think it's a little animosity and gives you a little fire in the belly to come out and know that we out lost to them in extra innings," Polito said. "We know that we can play with them now. We know that they're right there with us. It's our time to take it."

UWGB secured the Horizon League's automatic berth after winning three games in the conference tournament on walk-off home runs.

"They are a scrappy little team," Gallagher said. "Hat's off to them for winning in their tournament, the Horizon conference. There are some good teams in that conference. They did the right thing at the right time. All you need is one good weekend and you are in the mix. And I think they proved that they can do it. They earned the right to be here. I expect them to be very competitive."

The Phoenix offense is led by outfielder Rebeka Oestreich (.312, 2, 11) and infielders Ali Rostkowski (.306, 3, 15) and Michelle Kaminski (.263, 4, 23). On the mound, Stephanie Hansen (8-6, 1.83), Kristi Kosobucki (9-4, 2.01) and Lisa Meissner (9-6, 2.03) have divided the work load.

The Badgers last faced UWGB during the spring season two years ago; Wisconsin holds a 17-6-1 edge in the series.

The winner of the Madison Regional will face the winner of the South Bend Regional in a Super Regional next weekend for the right to advance to the College World Series.

"Anybody can knock anybody off at this point and I think we have a good shot," Gallagher said.

What: NCAA Softball Regional. See tournament bracket
When: Friday, Saturday and Sunday, May 20-22. Regional Tournament schedule
Where: Goodman Diamond, Madison, Wis.
Parking: Parking will be free in Lot 60 after 2:30 p.m. Friday. Lot 60 is east of Goodman Diamond, between University Bay Drive and Walnut Street. See map
Tickets: All-session passes are available for $20 for adults and $14 for youth, students and senior citizens. Single-session passes will be available at Goodman Diamond for $7 for adults and $5 for youth, students and senior citizens.

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