Steeply banked bleachers perch fans right on top of the action - and provide a view of Lake Mendota, too. Goodman Diamond is an intimate sports venue that should be rocking for Wisconsin fastpitch softball doubleheaders on Saturday afternoons. But thanks to Wisconsin's climate, fans huddled under blankets are usually outnumbered by empty seats. And prior to this year, the Badgers were traditionally mired in the bottom half of the Big Ten standings by the time sunny spring days arrived in Madison.
Going into this weekend's series against Penn State, the Badgers are tied for third in the conference and playing like a team that deserves a large and raucous cheering section. At Illinois last Friday night, the Badgers won a program-record ninth straight game, 8-0. They lost the first of Saturday's two games, 7-8, despite a four-run rally in the seventh inning, but came back strong in the second game, hitting six home runs to win 10-7. Sophomore outfielder Mary Massei hit three bombs herself.
The Badgers are a young team that will lose just one senior to graduation. Top hitter Maria Van Abel, a centerfielder batting .361, is a walk-on freshman, and number-one pitcher Cassandra Darrah, who has a 2.28 ERA with a 16-7 record, is just a sophomore. They're also fast and aggressive on the base paths; their 65 stolen bases on 88 attempts are good for second in the conference.
Wisconsin welcomes Penn State (13-23, 5-7 Big Ten) to Goodman for three games this weekend, including a doubleheader on Saturday at noon and 2 p.m. The forecast is for sunny, crisp weather.