The Badgers were looking forward to a series where they could compare themselves with the best of the best.
Going against a team ranked No. 2 in the country on Sunday, Wisconsin battled with Michigan until the very end, but came up short 2-1 in a classic showdown between two elite pitchers.
Wisconsin started the game on a promising note defensively, as freshman pitcher Cassandra Darrah struck out three Michigan batters in the top of the first, while freshman Mary Massei led off the Badgers offensive effort with a double. After a pitch struck senior Jennifer Krueger, Karla Powell hit a single. However, a base-running error by the Badgers provided the Wolverines with their first out of the inning, as the Badger base runners got caught in a three-runner pickle. It was one of a handful of mistakes on the base paths for Wisconsin on the day.
“You can’t make errors against a team like Michigan,” head coach Yvette Healy said. “No mental errors, no bad reads, no little mistakes, and against a good team like Michigan every little thing will cost you. It really shows how much this game is a game of inches.”
Wisconsin took the first foothold of the game, chasing Michigan pitcher Stephanie Speierman from the game after Powell’s hit, as Michigan head coach Carol Hutchins decided to remove Speierman amidst her pitchers early struggles. The next at-bat, the Badgers scored their only run of the game on a sacrifice fly to center by sophomore Shannel Blackshear off of reigning Big Ten pitcher of the year Jordan Taylor.
From that point on, Taylor seized control of the game and never gave it back.
Taylor pitched the rest of the game, going six plus innings fanning eleven and only allowing four hits. After the RBI sacrifice fly by Blackshear, the Michigan pitcher befuddled the Badgers with a combination of corner-paving fastballs and a terrific changeup. Taylor gave the Wolverines all the time in the world to mount their comeback, as the All-American breezed through the Badger lineup, tailoring her way to earning the win in the game.
“She’s a great pitcher,” junior Karla Powell said. “She brings the ball so well inside and outside. We tried a different approach today; we were just looking to get hits.”
Powell and sophomore Whitney Massey combined for three of the four hits that Taylor allowed on the day, providing some of the only resistance the Badgers would be able to mount offensively throughout the game.
“We just tried to get runners on,” Massey said. “We chased Taylor’s changeup a lot today; we weren’t really pitch selective as a team in our at-bats. I just stayed in my zone against her. Last year she got me with a riser inside and I just sat and waited on that pitch.”
While Taylor hung up the Badgers at the plate, the Wolverines struggled to find a way to produce a single run on another terrific outing from Wisconsin ace Darrah. The freshman once again went the distance for the Badgers, throwing her 16th complete game of the season on her way to protecting the Badgers 1-0 lead through four innings.
“It’s awesome having a freshman pitch the way she’s pitching,” Powell said. “It’s amazing knowing we have someone who is mixing her pitches up constantly and keeping people off balance all game.”
The Wolverines showed the signature of an elite team by not giving up, getting to Darrah in the fifth for two runs, scoring all they would need to escape Goodman Diamond with a 1-0 win and a series sweep.
Unlike the game Sunday, the first game of the series Friday was a blowout, where the Wolverines tagged the Badgers for nine runs. While only giving up two earned runs in the game, Wisconsin freshman pitcher Amanda Najdek took the loss, while once again Taylor took the win for Michigan in their 9-1 trouncing of Wisconsin.
Wisconsin gave up seven runs in the fourth, as a throwing error and a ground ball that went between an infielders legs kick started the Michigan throttling in the inning.
The lone run of the game was driven in by Powell, scoring Krueger in the bottom of the fourth for the only Badger run of the game, as the team was mercy ruled in the fifth.
Wisconsin did lose both games on the weekend, but through four innings of the first game and the entire second game the Badgers proved they could compete with Michigan, a very heartening sign to Healy.
“I like where we’re at,” Healy said. “We got started the right way today, we bounced back from yesterday. Our team could have hung their heads and gotten rolled over today, but they have no conscience or memory, they reset for today and that’s a big deal.”