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Saturday, March 02, 2024

Softball: Balanced attack propels Badgers past North Dakota

After what has been a lackluster season thus far, head coach Yvette Healy stressed to her team that it had to find a way to string a few wins together to build momentum heading into its final stretch of the year.

Scoring 28 runs and allowing just three over the course of a doubleheader might just do the trick for the Badgers.

“Our pre-talk was about getting on a roll,” sophomore pitcher Taylor-Paige Stewart said. “Coach Healy’s all about getting on a winning streak, so we just came out with that in mind.”

That mindset seems to have paid off. Wisconsin (3-5 Big Ten, 19-15 overall) beat North Dakota, 11-2 and 17-1, Wednesday at Goodman Diamond.

“I think the team was excited to get back home, play in front of our own fans and have a chance to play not a top 25 team,” Healy said.

Although North Dakota (2-3 Big Sky, 3-23 overall) was not the strongest opponent Wisconsin has faced this season, the Badgers will be able to take many positives out of their performance.

In the first game, Wisconsin jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning that was sparked by back-to-back, two-RBI doubles from sophomore utility player Chloe Miller and senior third baseman Michelle Mueller.

Senior shortstop Stephanie Peace stole home on a North Dakota error and freshman utility player Sara Novak added an RBI single to round out Wisconsin’s first at-bat.

Senior pitcher Cassandra Darrah hardly needed the cushion that the offense gave her. Darrah allowed two runs and five hits in a mercy-rule shortened, five-inning performance. Her record improved to 11-10.

The first inning of the second game mirrored the start of the first game very closely. Wisconsin scored eight runs in its half of the inning, highlighted by back-to-back home runs from Peace and senior left fielder Mary Massei.

Massei and Peace’s home runs, in addition to Mueller hit a towering grand slam to left center in the second inning bolstered Wisconsin’s electrifying offensive display.

“It felt good just to take some hacks [and] to just to see the rest of the team excel also,” Massei said.

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Stewart (8-5) appreciated the massive run support, despite only allowing one run on three hits over five innings. Stewart had a no-hitter going until she gave up a single in the fourth inning.

“It just makes it fun,” Stewart said of the run support. “If all cylinders are going, you’re just playing for fun like you’re a little kid again.”

If the Badgers can continually find offense to complement Darrah and Stewart, who have allowed a combined seven runs in the last four games, Wisconsin should be able to finish the season strong. Healy feels that her team’s record is not indicative of its true potential.

“The only missing element is a lot of wins,” Healy said. “We’ve played tough teams, we’ve gotten some really good key wins. So for us to be able to get a few wins is a big deal.”

Wisconsin will take on Illinois in a three-game series this weekend at Goodman Diamond.

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