One of the biggest tests of the season for the Wisconsin softball team came Wednesday afternoon in the form of Nebraska. While the Badgers had their 13-game winning streak halted, they rallied in the second game of the doubleheader for a key victory and series split.
After holding No. 19-ranked Nebraska (36-13, 14-4 Big Ten) off for the first inning, the Huskers racked up four runs in the second in one deadly stroke. Outfielders Kiki Stokes and Kat Woolman and first baseman Dawna Tyson loaded the bases on a combination of singles and fielder’s choice plays. Then designated hitter Tatum Edwards knocked a grand slam out of the park for her 16th home run of the year, putting a significant distance between her team and Wisconsin on the scoreboard.
But Edwards wasn’t finished. She continued doing damage a couple innings later, starting after Woolman reached on another single and went on to score when teammate Hailey Decker hit a gap in right field. With one run already brought in, the designated hitter made her way to the plate and sent another pitch sailing over the left field fence, bringing in two additional runs for the Cornhuskers to give them a 6-0 lead.
UW tried to get something of its own started in the bottom of the fourth when third baseman Michelle Mueller and catcher Chloe Miller both singled to the outfield, but both runners ended up getting stranded.
The Huskers, already ahead 7-0, ended the game in the fifth when they tacked on another five runs, hitting a string of singles to load the bases. Edwards kept the bases full and gained her seventh RBI of the game when she drew a walk, setting Decker up to follow in her footsteps. The second baseman hit Nebraska’s second grand slam of the game off Wisconsin pitcher Cassandra Darrah, bringing in the last four runs of the game for a final score of 12-0.
However, Wisconsin still had one trip to the plate left and sent a message to Nebraska that it wasn’t about to give up. In what turned out to be the final inning the Badgers loaded the bases when Marissa Mersch was hit by a pitch, Maria Van Abel singled on a bunt and Sara Novak reached on a fielder’s choice. While in the end the team wasn’t able to produce any runs, head coach Yvette Healy said getting some runners on base helped develop some momentum early on in the next game.
“It was something to build on,” Healy said. “You know, you look for every little part of it.”
The second game started off much differently, with Wisconsin holding Nebraska off and taking the lead in the first inning. Mueller, who had reached on a fielder’s choice, made it home when Miller doubled down the right field line, both reaching against Edwards who had switched to pitcher for game two.
Healy said things were said in between the two games that might have lead to this shift in momentum.
“We said, ‘It doesn’t matter if they won 12 to nothing or one to nothing,’” Healy said. “The goal was to just be able to get a win … When you’re facing a team that’s ranked, if you take one [game], it’s a big deal. So we were just trying to keep focused on that.”
But the Huskers were still riding a high from their five-inning victory and put up a couple runs of their own in the top of the second, starting when third baseman MJ Knighten led off the inning with the team’s third home run of the afternoon. Woolman batted in the second run a few batters later when she singled up the middle, bringing in teammate Kylee Muir who had previously drawn a walk. With no outs on the inning, Nebraska loaded the bases again after Woolman’s single, but Wisconsin pitcher Taylor-Paige Stewart shut down the Huskers, shutting down the next three batters, including Edwards who struck out swinging.
Healy explained Stewart’s success against the Nebraska roster in situations like these is because of Darrah pitching the first game.
“We always say whoever goes in first is kind of the one testing out the hitters and trying to see how we can beat people,” Healy said. “So even though we get the loss in the first one, I think you learn a little about their hitters and try to throw a little bit better.”
Not only did the Badgers pitch their way out of a dangerous top half, but they continued to do damage of their own in the bottom of the second inning. Leadoff hitter Mary Massei earned two RBIs when she doubled to center field, and Miller picked up a third when she drew a walk, taking the lead back and putting the score at 4-2.
Although this game lasted all seven innings, the final runs came in the fifth once again. Nebraska tied up the score when Edwards got her 3rd home run of the night, first of the game, bringing in two RBIs.
But the Badgers had the final word this time, with Miller homering in the bottom of the inning off a pitch by Edwards, which brought in the final two runs of the night.
“I was really ready to face Edwards,” Miller said of her home run. “We knew she threw a drop ball, and I was really prepared for that. Really, just visualizing.”
Although the team was disappointed to see the winning streak, which had spanned the last three weeks, come to a halt, the win in the second game carried with it a big meaning. Wisconsin had struggled in the past against Nebraska, winning only two of the previous 13 meetings before Wednesday.
So despite their first loss in 21 days, there was still a silver lining in taking one of the two games for the Badgers.
“We kind of had the mentality that we really wanted to win one game,” Miller said. “We knew we weren’t supposed to. So after really just getting womped on, we kind of had the mindset of ‘Maybe they’ll let up a little bit, and we’ll come out of nowhere.’ And we kind of came out of nowhere and just took it to them.”