South Dakota State came into Tuesday’s doubleheader knowing the potential and talent of Wisconsin ace freshman Cassandra Darrah, but nothing could prepare them for the real thing.
In the first game of Tuesday’s doubleheader, the Jackrabbits were shut down 4-0 by Darrah’s seven-inning, one hit performance, an outing where the freshman pitcher from Corydon, Iowa went three up and three down in every inning except for the fourth.
Darrah flirted with a no-hitter the entire game, as her attempt to write her name in the Wisconsin record books was broken up in the top of the seventh by a lead off single up the middle by Ashley Durazo.
Superstition or no superstition, every player began to understand what was at stake entering the last inning.
“I knew what was there,” Darrah said. “I just focused on doing what I normally do. The ball went right through my legs on that hit. I was pretty bummed.”
“There were a lot of debates in the dugout what to throw in that situation,” head coach Yvette Healy said. “I was telling the outfield around the fifth that everyone better dive for the ball. I didn’t want to say anything about the situation but they all nodded so they caught on.”
The Badger pitcher didn’t just contribute to the game by pitching; she contributed to her own cause as she batted eighth in the lineup. Darrah laid down a key sacrifice bunt in the bottom of the second inning to advance runners Whitney Massey and Dana Rasmussen to second and third. The next at bat Wisconsin second baseman Jordan Skinner hit a two-RBI single as the Badgers took the lead for good.
Healy understands Darrah’s talent is not just limited to the mound.
“She’s a tough kid, she’s so athletic,” Healy said. “You can’t predict the kind of success she’s had, it just shows she’s a special kid.”
Healy also thinks Darrah didn’t even have her best stuff Tuesday.
“She’s really not on the top of her game right now,” Healy said. “I don’t think she actually is feeling that great on the mound. If she can keep getting wins, putting zeros on the board and almost throwing a no hitter when she’s not feeling her best, it’s just impressive.”
At this point of the season with a 12-5 record, Darrah is just enjoying the ride.
“I’m excited because I never thought when I walked into this program I’d be where I am today,” Darrah said. “I knew I’d work my way up to it but I never thought it’d be this soon.”
Krueger sets pace for offense
While the Badgers enjoyed a terrific 4-for-5 performance by sophomore Whitney Massey in Tuesday’s doubleheader, a wily upperclassman stole the show.
Senior centerfielder Jen Krueger shattered the record for most bases stolen by a Badger in a single season with 32. It was a record previously held by the senior when she stole 29 in 2010.
With three steals in the second game against the Jackrabbits, Krueger wrote her name into Wisconsin history.
“I only knew about how close I was to the record when it was brought up in an interview last week,” Krueger said. “I’m just trying to get as many as I can and help out this team in any way I can.”
Krueger also returned to form at the plate, shaking off a 0-7 performance in last weekend’s doubleheader against Northwestern with five hits in eight at bats against South Dakota State.
“I don’t really feel the pressure anymore,” Krueger said. “I’ve been in hitting slump situations before. I know what needs to happen, I don’t get too frustrated when things don’t go my way.”
Krueger harassed the Jackrabbits with the usual slap hits in the infield, using her uncommon speed on the base path to blaze her way toward the bag before the ball is even thrown. She also showed diversity from her usual dirt dominance, smacking a blooping single to the grass in left field.
“She’s the spark of our whole lineup,” Healy said. “When she gets shut down it’s really hard for us to win games. She worked on swinging a bit today and got that bloop hit. She needs to do that in Big Ten play for us now and continue her success into the weekend.”
Healy also sees a common link between Krueger and Darrah’s success.
“They’re both so determined, focused and competitive,” Healy said. “They are showing the way to the rest of the team.”