Wisconsin's softball team has made three trips to Lincoln in the past 14 months.
Two of those were conference series, both losses. So what would the third, a trip to the conference postseason tournament, be like?
The Badgers were all smiles and cheers this time around after earning a 9-3 win against Minnesota in the championship game of the Big Ten Tournament on Sunday at Bowlin Stadium.
The Badgers had struggled to keep in the top four of the conference and earn a first-round bye. But the hard work paid off and Wisconsin was able to pull off what many might say was an unexpected present on Mother’s Day.
In fact, one grandmother in the Wisconsin group even was heard mentioning that this was a surprise she never thought she would get.
“Coming in as the fourth seed, we were happy to get a bye. We were just thrilled to not have to play that first day and make it through that round of cuts,” Wisconsin coach Yvette Healy said. “We talked to the team about just playing hard. The conference is up this year and we’ve gotten to be a better team because of that.
“Adding a team like Nebraska has really elevated this conference, and I think it’s one of the things that has made this team better is having a team like Nebraska that’s this good enter in. When you compete with teams that are that good throughout the year, it just helps you grow as a program, and I think that helped us a lot this year.”
Minnesota (35-17) opened the scoring in the third inning as Tyler Walker hit a two-run home run over the right-field fence. The Golden Gophers added another run in the sixth when Walker scored on an error.
Wisconsin started its scoring run with two in the third, tying the score. The Badgers opened the floodgates in the fourth, scoring five runs off three hits, an error and two hit batters. Michelle Mueller opened with a solo home run. After Wisconsin loaded the bases, Steffani LaJeunesse pinch hit for Kendall Grimm and was hit by a pitch, scoring a run. A another run scored on a hit batter, and Shanel Blackshear followed with a two-run double.
The Badgers added a final run in the sixth.
“We just told them that was a big win (against Michigan) and we’re down from 12 (teams) to two, so let’s play hard and give it your best and put balls in play, and we did that,” Healy said. “We don’t have the blue-chip marquee recruits that some of the other programs in the Big Ten have, but we have kids with a lot of heart, and that’s what we’re proud of.”