Tourney-bound Gophers host Badgers

Minnesota has a chance for a better seed as it looks for a little payback.

One year ago, on the first weekend in May, the Minnesota softball team was hoping for a miracle, needing to sweep Wisconsin at home as well as a loss elsewhere in the conference to earn a bid to the Big Ten Tournament.

The Gophers are closing out the regular season against the Badgers once again, but this time the scenario is a different one.

When Minnesota opens up play at Wisconsin in a two-game series starting at noon Saturday and Sunday, the Gophers will be playing for a higher seed, and some momentum, heading into the tournament.

And these factors are ones senior outfielder Sila Fernandez said are much easier to worry about than last year’s stress of sitting on the outside of the bubble.

“It’s just nice to know that this is what we worked for and we’ve earned it,” she said. “But for the returning players, we kind of want to take it to Wisconsin because of what happened last year.”

Last year’s split with the Badgers was what Fernandez was referring to, as the split ended the Gophers’ hopes at a tourney berth.

Minnesota enters the series having won four of its last five games, being dominant in the two after a disappointing loss to Ohio State last Sunday.

And more surprising than the dominant wins was the new dominating attitude the Gophers seemed to show on the field.

“We aren’t leaving anything to chance; we used those two games to get ready for Wisconsin and we’re using the Wisconsin games to prepare for the tournament,” junior Lauren Pockl said after the Wisconsin-Green Bay game. “These games are really important for our preparation for the next few weeks.”

Wisconsin (15-38, 3-15) will be forced to take on a spoiler role this season, as the Badgers are sitting in last place in the conference, already eliminated from a tournament berth.

As a team, Wisconsin has struggled mightily in most aspects of the game this season. The Badgers’ awful .213 team batting average is boosted by senior catcher Joey Daniels’s .288 average.

In the pitching circle, Wisconsin is a bit short this year as well, lacking a pitcher with an ERA below 4.20.

Regardless of numbers, the Minnesota/Wisconsin rivalry usually poses a good matchup, which is something junior pitcher Katie Dalen said she looks forward to.

“Wisconsin can’t make it to the Big Ten so they’re going to be playing for pride, and it’s always a big rivalry game for us,” she said. “It’ll be nice to be on the other end compared to last year, but we plan to have the same intensity.”