The Wisconsin Badgers (22-12, 6-3 Big Ten) swept the Western Illinois Leathernecks (22-17, 12-3 Summit League) in a story of day and night Tuesday.
In the night game, the Badgers got the best of the Leathernecks in a pitching duel, as Wisconsin star pitcher Cassandra Darrah (14-6) went the distance yet again, allowing just a single run while throwing her 16th complete game as the Badgers claimed a 7-1 victory in the second game.
On offense, it took the Badgers a while to finally produce run support for Darrah, as the team finally grabbed the lead in the fifth inning, scoring three runs to grab a 3-1 lead. Highlighting the inning was a homerun by catcher Maggie Strange, as the Badgers benefited from an RBI double from sophomore Mary Massei and an RBI single by junior Shannel Blackshear to take the lead for good.
Wisconsin head coach Yvette Healy said the team remained confident despite producing a run in the first four frames.
“Our team and our coaches have a lot of confidence that it’s a matter of time until we come around and put hits together,” Healy said. “We just had to be patient and not press. I think the team just really wants it right now.”
The Badgers added four more runs in the next frame – bolstered by two RBIs each from sophomore Michelle Mueller and senior Karla Powell – as the sixth inning ended with the team ahead 7-1, a score that would hold for the duration of the game.
While the night game of the doubleheader was short and sweet, the day game resembled more of a lengthy boxing match, as the Badgers won an instant classic 12-11 in nine innings.
The Badgers found themselves down 7-1 going into the bottom of the third inning in the first game. But, just three days removed from the greatest comeback in school history – coming back from an eight run deficit with an 11-10 win last Saturday against Minnesota – Wisconsin replicated its efforts once again to steal a victory from the jaws of defeat.
“We (the coaching staff) just said to have a sense of urgency,” Healy said. “The longer that we had to wait the bigger the chance was we’d lose it. So we were trying to be aggressive.”
The Badgers chipped away with a bang in the bottom of the third, as second baseman Whitney Massey started things off with a one out double. After a single by Blackshear advanced Massey to third, Badger shortstop Stephanie Peace stepped into the box. With one swing of the bat, the sophomore cut the Leathernecks’ lead to three.
Peace, recently named the Big Ten Player of the Week for her recent hitting tear, says she has been seeing the ball better in the last few games.
“I’m just kind of in the zone,” Peace said. “My team’s had a lot of confidence in me all through the season as I’ve moved around the batting order trying to find my spot. I’ve just been trying to get key hits when the team needs it.”
After a two-inning lull in action – one of four scoreless innings in a nine-inning affair – the Badgers went into the bottom of the sixth inning still trailing 7-4. But in the sixth, Healy’s squad would grab the lead.
The rally in the bottom of the sixth started with Strange’s one-out walk, as the Badgers went on to eventually load the bases. With the situation looking dangerous, Western Illinois’ head coach Holly Van Vlymen elected to take out pitcher Kelsey Michelini and replace her with Hailey Bickford. The decision looked to be a smart move, as Bickford quickly generated a pop-out from Wisconsin first baseman Mueller for the second out.
But with two outs, Massey came up in the clutch, jacking a two RBI double to the gap in left-center to tie the game at 7-7. However, after committing five total errors themselves, the Badgers benefited from an untimely Leatherneck miscue, as a wild pitch allowed Massey to cross the plate and take the lead 8-7.
Entering the final frame with an improbable 8-7 lead, Wisconsin looked in prime position to escape with the win. Western Illinois, however, had other plans, as sophomore Emma Jarrell hit a clutch two-out, two-strike pitch for an RBI single off of Wisconsin pitcher Amanda Najdek to tie the game.
As the game continued into the ninth inning, Western Illinois once again appeared to have claimed the game, scoring three runs – but only one earned – off Badger pitcher Meghan McIntosh. But the Badgers refused to surrender, as the team once again mounted an unbelievable rally.
Down 11-8, the Badgers responded heroically for the final time. The team never recorded a single out as a walk, a double and three singles – including the final hit by Strange that tied the game and led to a Leatherneck fielding error that allowed the winning run to score – as the Badgers walked away with a win in a rollercoaster of a game.
“These kids just believe they can win ball games,” assistant coach Randy Schneider said. “They feed off of each other, when one kid hits well they all hit well. We’ve seen some of the better pitchers in the country this year and now it’s carried over. These kids can hit anybody right now.”