With a slightly more spring-like afternoon Wednesday at Goodman Diamond, warmer temperatures did not accompany hotter hitters in a Big Ten doubleheader between Wisconsin and Northwestern. But despite only scraping together eight hits between the two games, the Badgers found a way to score seven runs, taking the two games by scores of 3-1 and 4-2, respectively.
It wasn’t Wisconsin (35-9 overall, 12-5 Big Ten) who struck first in either game, as the Wildcats (25-18, 9-7) notched all three of their runs in the first innings of both games. Northwestern leadoff hitter Kristin Scharkey led off the first game against Wisconsin ace junior Cassandra Darrah with a triple and subsequently scored when the second batter, Mari Majam, brought her home on a single.
Darrah knew that the Wildcats were a very capable offensive team – Northwestern is second in batting average in the Big Ten tied with Wisconsin at .313 – and remained composed after yielding the two hits and run to open the game.
“I just needed to slow things down. I know that they score because they’re big hitters, so that didn’t really fluster me or anything. I just knew I needed to shut down the next couple [of hitters] to slow them down,” Darrah said.
Wisconsin head coach Yvette Healy also recognized the talent present in the top of the Northwestern batting order, but also credited her pitchers – senior Meghan McIntosh threw for Wisconsin in Game 2 – with being strong in coming back to shut the Wildcats down after both shaky first innings.
“The top of their order is very good. Northwestern, they work the count and score a ton of runs. I put the credit to their one and two hitter. They’re really nice leadoff kids,” Healy said regarding the Wildcats’ Scharkey and Majam. “The pitchers did settle in. After giving up runs, I think they showed a lot of composure. I give credit to coach [Tracie] Adix, our pitching coach. She’s a bulldog and she’s tough. And I think the pitchers are taking on her persona a little bit.”
After Wisconsin fell down 1-0 to open the first game, Darrah kept the Badgers down only one and stranded two runners on base in the top of the first inning. Then in the bottom of the inning, Wisconsin took the lead right back. With the bases full of Badgers, thanks to three walks from Northwestern starter Amy Letourneau, junior Stephanie Peace beat out a throw home on a grounder back to the mound to tie the game at one. One batter later, freshman Macy Oswald earned yet another walk to force a run in and give Wisconsin the lead.
That proved to be all Wisconsin would yield, as Darrah went all seven innings and gave up only four hits for victory No. 20 on the season.
Junior third baseman Michelle Mueller gave the Badgers some insurance in the seventh inning when she crushed a 2-0 pitch over the fence in left center.
When Wisconsin fell behind 2-0 to start the second game, it looked as if it might not come back. The Badgers were held hitless through the second inning until senior left fielder Kendall Grimm bounced a single up the middle in the third. Only one batter later, senior Whitney Massey went deep for the Badgers with her 11th home run of the season and tied the game at two.
In the bottom of the fourth, it was Mueller at the plate with a runner on second base. And once again, Mueller provided the Badgers with the insurance they needed when her home run barely eclipsed the center field fence.
“I felt pretty confident,” Mueller said of her performance at the plate. “We worked on a lot of small ball and brought out the small ball machine and hit some small ball from about noon on.
“That really made me feel comfortable, and I just had my timing down with the pitching and my weight back like I’ve talked about with the coaches. I just had a good feel today.”
Working with a two-run lead, McIntosh found her way out of a jam in the top of the fifth inning, stranding two runners on second and third base. She had little else to sweat about the rest of the way and went all seven innings, surrendering only three hits and striking out six.
Despite the Badgers’ lackluster offensive performance, the team picked up wins No. 34 and No. 35 on the season, the most wins in program history.
“We’ve focused all year on saying it’s not all about batting average, but it’s about scoring runs, and I think the team is buying into that,” Healy said. “Of course we want the batting average to look good. But at the end of the day, who cares if you hit .500 on the day and score no runs? You’d rather just figure out a way to push runs across.”