Wisconsin fans are accustomed to seeing the football and basketball teams win by 17 points, but those who made it to Goodman Diamond Wednesday afternoon saw the Wisconsin softball team put up a combined 28 runs in a double header.
Wisconsin (19-15) picked up a convincing series sweep over North Dakota (4-26) with a tone-setting 11-2 win in the first game. It followed that up with a 17-1 victory in the second contest, both finishing in five innings via the mercy rule.
The Badger offense got off to a hot start in the first game. The 11 runs scored by UW were the most they have put across the plate this season.
Three Badgers drove in two runs apiece, which included Maria Van Abel, Chloe Miller and Michelle Mueller, as the team collected 10 hits across just four innings at the plate.
Wisconsin’s offense was charged early on by the sticks of the top of the batting order. Van Abel, Ashley Van Zeeland and Mary Massei started the bottom of the first with three straight singles. Then, the Miller, the Badger backstop, doubled down the right field line bringing home both Van Abel and Van Zeeland and advancing Massei to third. Mueller, the senior third baseman, followed that up with a double of her own, giving Wisconsin the 4-0 lead from which it would never look back.
Senior ace Cassandra Darrah hurled five innings for the Badgers, allowing just two runs (one earned) on five hits. She walked only one batter and struck out two.
Her performance in the circle was topped by sophomore pitcher Taylor-Paige Stewart’s outing in the second game. Stewart did not allow a base runner until the fourth inning, when North Dakota got its first hit of the ballgame. She allowed a run in the fifth inning but finished the game giving up only three hits. Out of the 15 outs she recorded, Stewart struck out 11 without walking any batters and greatly appreciated the run support she got from her squad.
“Coach [Yvette] Healy is all about getting on a winning streak, so I came out with that in mind,” Stewart said. “[The run support] just makes it fun. If all cylinders are going, you’re just playing for fun like you’re a little kid again.”
The first inning was essential in both games for the Badgers offensive explosion. After putting up six runs in the first frame of game one, Wisconsin erupted for eight runs in the first inning of game two.
Following smart base running that pushed the first run across for UW in the second game, senior shortstop Stephanie Peace blasted a home run over the left-center field wall to push Wisconsin’s lead to 3-0.
Two batters later, Mary Massei took North Dakota pitcher Megan Hedstrom’s first pitch deep to right center to increase the lead to 5-0.
After another run crossed the plate, Mueller singled up the middle to bring two more Badgers to come across, making it 8-0.
In the bottom of the second, Wisconsin picked up right where it left off, adding seven runs in the inning. Massei hit another two-run homer in nearly the same exact spot of her first bomb, which left her with two swings and two home runs on the game.
“It felt good just to take some hacks and just to see the rest of the team excel also and getting a lot of runs,” Massei said. “We haven’t had much of a winning streak this year, so now we’re just going to roll with it.”
Mueller added a grand slam later in the second inning, and Peace smacked her second home run of the game, a solo shot, to open up a comfortable 15-run cushion for the Badgers after just two innings of play.
The offense slowed down in the third inning, as the starters made way for the bench players who got some playing time with the substantial lead. Caitlyn Warren’s two-RBI single in the fourth was the last of the scoring for Wisconsin.
The five home runs by the Badgers was one shy of the team’s single-game record, which was set against Illinois in 2012. Their 17 runs tied the team’s single-game record.
The two home wins were a welcome sign for coach Healy, even if they were against a lighter competition than it met earlier in the season.
“I think we’ve really played a tough schedule and I think the team was excited to get back home, play in front of our own fans and have a chance to face a not top-25 [ranked] team,” Healy said.
“On paper I think we’re just a little over .500 going into these games, but we’ve got some big wins. It’s been a great season so far, the only thing missing is a lot of wins … so for us to be able to get a couple of wins is a big deal.”