This weekend brought the warmest temperatures so far this spring, setting up nearly ideal conditions for the Wisconsin women’s softball team’s home opening series. After what seemed like an eternity on the road, the Badgers christened the home season hosting Iowa in a three-game series at Goodman Diamond, but the Hawkeyes played the role of spoiler, winning the series 2-1.
In the first of a two game doubleheader Saturday, Iowa started off with a bang, getting three hits and two RBIs right away in the first inning. Wisconsin responded with a pair of hits in the bottom of the first frame, but wasn’t able to get on the scoreboard until the bottom of the third when junior Maria Van Abel stole home. Hawkeye catcher Holly Hoffman threw down to second base when Badger pinch runner Marisa Gonzalez stole from first, and the speedy Van Abel used the opportunity to take home.
The only other hits of the game came in the top of the fifth inning. Iowa pitcher Kayla Massey led off the inning by hitting a homer to left field. Next up was cleanup hitter Megan Blank, who reached first on a single, and after advancing to second and third on a hit and wild pitch, scored the final run of the game on a sacrifice fly in the 4-1 Badgers’ loss.
The Badgers didn’t let the loss discourage them, though. Van Abel mentioned that at this point in the season, the team is just trying to make adjustments and figure things out for the rest of Big 10 play.
“We’re still putting a lot of the pieces of the puzzle together right now,” Van Abel said.
The second game of Saturday’s doubleheader took off in the opposite direction as Wisconsin scored four runs in the second inning alone, with Marissa Mersch, Megan Tancill and Stephanie Peace all earning RBI with singles to the outfield.
The Hawkeyes responded in the third inning with a run of their own, only to be outdone by the Badgers who tallied three more in the bottom of the inning when Mersch singled up the middle for another two RBIs, while Van Abel added one of her own.
Later, Iowa made a run at a comeback when three more runs were batted in in the fifth inning, shortening the distance on the scoreboard to 7-4. But the Badgers held their ground as Mersch collected her fourth RBI of the game in the sixth inning, batting in Gonzalez for a final score of 8-4.
Scoring eight runs after being held to just one in the first game might raise the question of where the Badgers’ sudden spark came from. Van Abel said she felt the hitting successes of the weekend were due to batting coach Randy Schneider having the team watch themselves bat to understand what needed to be worked on and watch out for Massey’s pitching, even if it took until the second game to really kick in.
“Coach Schneider has really emphasized watching our film from last year, so we studied a lot this week on their pitchers,” Van Abel said. “I got a chance to look at my at-bats from last year just to get a better idea of what [Massey] threw me and what I struggled with. Having a game plan really helped me going into this game, and I think a lot of our hitters would say the same thing.”
The third and final game of the series was played Sunday afternoon, and with the series being split to that point, neither team knew what to expect in the finale.
After a tight first inning, Iowa’s Megan Blank homered to left field for the first run of the game, until a second run was earned moments later as teammate Whitney Repole walked her way around the infield.
Wisconsin struck back in the bottom of the fourth inning when shortstop Sara Novak singled to right field, advancing Mersch from second to home and earning UW’s sole run of the game.
Iowa, however, was only halfway done, and went on to send two more runners home, one on an error by the Wisconsin infield, taking home a second 4-1 victory.
There are many external factors that can affect the outcomes of softball games, weather being a major one, especially when considering things from the pitchers’ point of view. Looking back on Sunday’s matchup, head coach Yvette Healy commented on the wind during the game, and how Iowa used it to their advantage.
“We did have a little wind, and we’ve got some power hitters but we just weren’t able to connect,” Healy said. “I think [Massey] did a nice job keeping the ball down, so our players couldn’t really get underneath it, and we left a couple pitches elevated and [Iowa] made that count.”
While not necessarily satisfied with the weekend’s outcome, Wisconsin isn’t about to let a disappointing home opener affect the rest of the season.
Healy went on to agree with Van Abel that right now, the team is more concerned with getting kinks out before facing some of the bigger competition.
“Obviously you want to come out and get wins at home, so that’s not ideal, but I think this group just has to play another weekend,” Healy explained. “So more so than whether we win or not, it’s just about playing good softball, and we need to play better.”
This week the Badgers will prepare for their weekend trip up to Minneapolis where they will take on the Golden Gophers in what is likely to be one of the more exciting conference games.