The Wisconsin softball team is streaking through the wins column at Goodman Diamond.
Winning its 12th and 13th straight game at home, a program record, Wisconsin (33-15,12-6 Big Ten) rode two strong pitching performances to sweep Green Bay (21-25, 10-11 Horizon League) 4-0 and 5-2 in a doubleheader Wednesday night.
The wins concluded the nonconference portion of the schedule for the Badgers, as just six games on the season remain – all against conference opponents.
“I actually think there was more pressure in these last three games we’ve played then we’ll have going into the weekend (against Michigan),” Wisconsin head coach Yvette Healy said. “They’re good teams and they bring a lot to the table, and you have to be able to win these kinds of games people expect you to win. But at the same time we’re a young new program, so that was a tough position to be in.”
In the nightcap, the Badgers were able to overcome an early 2-0 deficit with five unanswered runs to escape with a 5-2 win. The team rode the hot arm of No. 2 pitcher Meghan McIntosh (7-5) for six innings, as freshman Amanda Najdek worked the top of the seventh to pick up her first save of the year. Taking the loss for the Phoenix on the mound was Ashley Nannemann (11-11).
The Badgers first drew blood in the bottom of the second frame, as Stephanie Peace stole second with two outs and then advanced to third base on a past ball. Sophomore Michelle Mueller was able to put the ball in play for the Badgers, as the first baseman grounded one sharply right to the Phoenix shortstop for what looked to be a routine 6-3 play. However, an errant throw by the shortstop allowed Peace to cross the plate for an unearned run, as the Badgers pulled within one run to make the score 2-1.
In the third inning, the Badgers blasted the game wide open. With two runners on base, sophomore Mary Massei displayed some gutsy base running. Caught in a pickle between third and home, Massei went back and forth until eventually making her decision to slide home, as poor timing by the Phoenix infield allowed Massei to score in the most exciting play of the game on an amazing show of hustle and softball IQ.
“That was amazing; I think that was the change in the game,” Mueller said. “It was a momentum builder, and it set the tone for the rest of the game.”
The Badgers would use RBIs from Whitney Massey, Shannel Blackshear and Peace to take the lead, as the team scored four runs to make it a 5-2 game. Neither team would score for the duration of the game, as McIntosh controlled the tempo of the game after giving up two runs in the first inning.
In game one, the Badgers used ace Cassandra Darrah (21-9) to shut down the Phoenix, as the team’s No. 1 option on the mound fanned seven while allowing just five hits. Darrah also went the distance, pitching seven shutout innings for her 21st complete game and 9th shutout of the season, leading the Badgers to a 4-0 win.
“I think that was actually one of the better performances midweek that Cass has given us,” Healy said. “She’s done a great job in the Big Ten, but sometimes midweek it’s harder to be fresh after throwing so many innings on the weekend.”
While Darrah looked fresh on the mound, the Badgers offense looked sluggish at the start. Unable to produce a single run after four innings while leaving five men on base, the bats finally awoke in the bottom of the fifth inning.
While unable to drive home a runner in scoring position her two previous times at bats, Peace stepped up in the box for Wisconsin and delivered the biggest hit of the game. With two outs and the bases loaded, Peace drilled a 2-2 pitch over the Phoenix center fielder’s head, clearing the bases and finally giving Darrah some much needed run support.
“My teammates had started the momentum before me and gotten on base, so I just tried to roll with it,” Peace said. “I hit a hard ball and made something happen. I failed the first couple times in a similar position, but I wanted to bounce back and earn their trust back.”
The Badgers added a final exclamation mark on the game in the bottom of the sixth. Mueller blasted a solo bomb over the wall in left center field to push the Badger lead to 4-0, and Darrah loaded the bases in the top of the seventh but held on to generate a pop out to center field for the final out of the game.
The Badgers have now won three in a row and 10 straight nonconference games.