If Wisconsin softball head coach Yvette Healy was looking for a signature win this season, the Badgers found her one in splitting a weekend doubleheader with tough Big Ten foe Northwestern. The Badgers rallied for an incredible 9-8 win in the first game but fell short of the sweep in a 2-0 loss.
In the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader, the Wildcats drew first blood, jumping out to an early 1-0 lead when Jordan Wheeler hit a single up the middle to score Marisa Bast from second.
In the third, the Wildcats chased Badger freshman Amanda Najdek (2-2) off the mound as Najdek struggled with control, walking three Northwestern batters, including one across the plate.
“I needed to focus on my mechanics,” said Najdek. “It’s all about trusting myself; I was doubting out there. I need to focus on never letting up.”
Healy opted to remove Najdek for sophomore Meghan McIntosh, who came into the bases-loaded jam and in two pitches forced a Wheeler fly to left, which was easily caught to end the inning.
“I just really looked at hitting my spots,” McIntosh said. “I focused on jamming them to start, and then I worked outside. I got those ground balls today I was looking for.”
McIntosh continued her string of recent strong outings, giving Wisconsin a four-inning stretch where zero Wildcats crossed the plate.
“Even though Meghan didn’t get the win, it was one of her best performances of the year,” Healy said. “We’re so proud of her; we just need to keep her focused in on continuing her success.”
It was an inning that Northwestern saw replayed throughout the game, as the Wildcats proceeded to leave 12 runners on base.
“I think Randy Schneider, our assistant, put together a terrific gameplan against them,” Healy said. “It was a lot of preparation. Northwestern is a great team who’s played a great schedule.”
Offensively, the Badgers struggled to get a read on Northwestern pitcher Sammy Albanese (5-4), as the right-hander breezed through the Badger lineup, spreading out three hits across seven shutout innings
“We were moving around in the box a little bit trying to break her rhythm up,” Healy said. “We were trying to put some bunts down. We didn’t have an answer to her today; if we could have found one it would have been a different outcome.”
The Badgers rallied in the first game from an 8-2 deficit in the fifth inning with six runs in the bottom of the sixth. Tying the record for the biggest comeback in program history, the Badgers came from behind once again to snatch a 9-8 victory.
It looked ugly for Wisconsin early. Freshman pitcher Cassandra Darrah felt the bite of the Wildcat bats as Northwestern pounced on the Badger ace for six runs in the first two innings. Down 6-0 entering the bottom of the second inning, Najdek took the reigns to guide the Badgers the rest of the way.
“We just kept battling,” Najdek said. “We went after the batters early, and I was able to get ahead in the count. I’m happy Coach has the trust in me that I can perform in those situations.”
As Najdek turned in a solid five innings, the Wisconsin bats slowly but surely began to heat up.
It began with a sixteen-pitch at bat for Badger third basemen sophomore Shannel Blackshear, who blasted the last pitch out of the park for a solo home run to make it 6-1. Junior Karla Powell responded with a home run of her own in the fourth to make it 7-2. Freshman Michelle Mueller ripped a triple in the fifth, scoring on a past ball to make it an 8-3 game.
Then the floodgates opened.
The bottom of the sixth proved disastrous for Northwestern, as Wisconsin scored an unprecedented six runs in the frame to take the lead for good, 9-8.
“We might be their only unranked team they’ve lost to this season,” Healy said. “It just shows if you keep playing hard and working, you’ll find ways to get breaks sometimes, so I’m very excited for our team.”
With two runners on, Stephanie Peace loaded the bases on a sharply hit ball off the third baseman for a single. In another big situation, Blackshear played the role of hero again, hitting a single up the middle that scored the first two Badgers of the inning.
With the bases loaded again two batters later, Healy opted to pinch-hit senior Dana Rasmussen. Rasmussen had not batted the entire game, but the Madison native came through with the biggest hit of her career, smashing a three run triple to tie the game at eight apiece.
“That was a huge source of pride for her; she’s worked really hard these last three years,” Healy said. “She was having a hard time deciding if she would be able to play this year with how much work it is, with how demanding her major is. She put the work in and she deserves every bit of success she gets, so that was a fun thing to see.”
After Rasmussen tied the game, junior second baseman Jordan Skinner put down a bunt that was thrown erratically by the Northwestern infield, allowing Rasmussen to score the eventual game-winning run, giving the Badgers their twentieth win on the season.