Softball: Badgers fall to Michigan in walk-off fashion

Image By: Shoaib Altaf and Shoaib Altaf

Wisconsin softball lost 4-3 to No. 1 seed Michigan Saturday in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament after a walk-off single by Wolverine first baseman Caitlin Blanchard.

It was the fourth meeting in five games between these two teams. The Badgers won two of three games last weekend in Ann Arbor, Michigan, including a 6-5, nine-inning victory in the rubber match last Sunday.

That competitiveness spilled over into this weekend. The No. 4 seed Badgers got off to a quick start with a two-run home run by senior left fielder Mary Massei in the first inning. It was her ninth of the season.

Sophomore pitcher Taylor-Paige Stewart started the game in the circle for Wisconsin. After retiring the first two batters she faced, she walked two and hit another to load the bases, but escaped the jam by inducing a foul pop out.

Stewart ran into trouble again in the third inning, allowing a two-run home run to tie the game followed by another single. To avoid further damage, head coach Yvette Healy made the switch to senior pitcher Cassandra Darrah.

The move paid off as Darrah kept the Wolverines from scoring again in the third, despite allowing consecutive two-out walks to load the bases.

Darrah and Michigan starting pitcher Megan Betsa settled in after that. They each pitched three scoreless innings to bring a 2-2 tie into the seventh.

The Badgers took a 3-2 lead to start the final inning with a leadoff solo shot from freshman catcher Chloe Miller. It was her 10th home run of the year.

However, Darrah could not keep it together in the bottom half. She gave up a leadoff single and a game-tying double to Michigan right fielder Nicole Sappingfield.

Following a walk and a double steal to put runners on second and third with no outs, Darrah faced an uphill battle to get the game into extra innings. On a 2-1 pitch, Blanchard laced a single into left field to win the contest for the Wolverines.

Michigan will face No. 3 seed Minnesota Sunday afternoon in the conference championship game. The winner will earn the Big Ten’s automatic berth to the NCAA tournament.

Wisconsin, ranked No. 38 in the nation in last week’s poll and sporting a 34-18 record, should earn an at-large bid to the 64-team field. The pairings will be announced Sunday night at 9:00 p.m. CT on ESPNU.

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