After an extensive road trip, the Wisconsin Badgers softball came home to a scrappy Nebraska team, dropping their first series in Madison to the Cornhuskers.
After a spending nearly two months on the road, Wisconsin owned a record of 23-3. They took on the Nebraska Cornhuskers (8-20), who had a little less success due to an extremely difficult nonconference schedule. Eager to get their season back on the right track, Nebraska came into Madison and swept the Badgers over the weekend behind an explosive lineup and shut-down pitching.
The Badgers would be the first on the board in their home opener when senior utility player Chloe Miller lined a shot in the left field gap, scoring junior infielder Kelsey Jenkins all the way from first after she reached on a leadoff walk. Wisconsin increased their lead to 2-0 on a squeeze bunt by sophomore catcher Melanie Cross in the third inning.
Nebraska would jump on Wisconsin starting pitcher Kaitlyn Menz the following inning when Tristen Edwards sent a 2-RBI base hit back up the middle to tie the game. The next batter, Kaylan Jablonski, followed with an RBI double to give the Cornhuskers a 3-2 lead.
Miller gave the Badgers the lead on a 2-run homer to dead center, but Nebraska quickly tied the game the following frame on an RBI single from M.J. Knighten, tying the score at 4.
Wisconsin had a chance to walk off in the seventh with their first two batters reaching, but a failed bunt, a strikeout, a fly-out and weak groundout ended the threat and sent the game into extras.
Menz recorded the first two outs in the eighth inning before issuing a walk, which was followed by a go-ahead 2-run homer from Edwards. Nebraska tacked on one more run with another homer and held on to win Wisconsin’s home opener 7-4. With the loss, Menz dropped to 14-3. Jablonski, who replaced starter Cassie McClure kept the Badgers in check and picked up the win.
The Badgers squandered some scoring opportunities and Miller spoke on Wisconsin’s inability to capitalize in their home opener.
“Today was a big day of execution,” Miller said. “If we can get bunts down and get runners over and put it in our hitters’ hands, I think that’s what’s going to win us games.”
Wisconsin would be quick to score in the second of the three-game set. Nebraska starting pitcher Sydney McLeod struggled with her command, walking each of the first three hitters in the first inning. Senior utility player Sara Novak was then hit by a pitch, which brought in a run, and Stephanie Lombardo brought in another with an RBI sacrifice fly, giving the Badgers the 2-0 lead after only recording one hit the entire inning.
Starting pitcher for the Badgers Kirsten Stevens handled the Nebraska lineup well for four innings, but Nebraska would explode for 5 runs in the fifth inning. It started with an error to make it 2-1, Edwards gave Nebraska the lead sending a line drive hit up the middle and Jablonski added on with a double to left scoring two. All five runs were scored in a span of four pitches.
It would only get worse for Wisconsin. In the sixth, Nebraska put the game out of reach with 3 more runs as Wisconsin committed two errors in the inning, their second and third of the game. The Huskers finished off the Badgers 8-3, taking the series and giving Wisconsin their first back-to-back losses of the season.
Stevens was tagged with the loss, dropping to 8-2 on the season, while Jablonski recorded all 21 outs, earning her second win in two days.
Wisconsin head coach Yvette Healy commended Jablonski’s back-to-back outings, who finished the weekend with 20 innings pitched.
“She’s tough,” Healy said. “She was throwing a great game and I’m impressed with how gritty she’s been, but on our end we’ve just got to do a better job of making adjustments.”
Wisconsin had another chance to make a big statement early in the series finale on Sunday when Nebraska starting pitcher McLeod again struggled with the zone. The Badgers could only manage 1 run on an RBI double by Brooke Wyderski.
The lead would not last long as the Badgers’ struggling defense allowed Nebraska to pull ahead. A pair of errors including a dropped fly ball and a throwing error helped give the Cornhuskers a 3-1 lead. Nebraska would tack on 1 more run in the inning.
Nebraska pushed away even further in the third inning against Badger pitcher Menz with a three-spot capped off by a 2-RBI single from Austen Urness to increase the Husker lead to 7-1.
Jablonski started to show signs of fatigue as the fourth inning ensued. Thanks to singles from Wyderski and Novak, the Badgers cut the deficit to 7-4. But Nebraska would respond quickly with 2 more runs in the top of the fifth, making it 9-4, which would be the eventual final score.
Despite trailing most of the weekend, Healy liked the effort she saw from her players.
“The team kept batting,” Healy said. “It’s easy to fold when things aren’t going well, and there’s a lot of fight in this group.”
Menz received the loss, giving her a season record of 14-4. Once again, it was Jablonski replacing the starter early and shutting down the Badgers for her third win of the series.
Wisconsin suffered their first series sweep since the 2015 season, dropping to 23-6 while Nebraska improved to 11-20. The Badgers will host the Iowa Hawkeyes (8-21) next weekend for a three-game set.