Entering the eighth inning of Friday’s thriller against No. 19 Michigan (12-3 Big Ten, 32-10-1 overall), the Badgers (7-8, 28-10) faced a challenge all too familiar. Just two days earlier at Goodman Diamond, Wisconsin took No. 5 Minnesota to extras after a scoreless seven innings, but surrendered six runs in the top of the 12th and lost to their rivals in the first game of a crucial conference double header.
This time around, Wisconsin was prepared to fight it out well into the night, coming away with huge 1-0 victory thanks to a walk-off home run by sophomore Stephanie Lombardo on the fifth pitch of the 11th inning.
“We had that long game against Minnesota and it didn’t go our way,” said Lombardo. “But this one, we knew we had the fight and we came out on top.”
The game was a back-and-forth pitcher’s duel the whole way. Freshman ace Kaitlyn Menz held a fantastic Michigan lineup to only six hits in her 11 innings of work. She pitched her 15th complete game of the year and improved her record to 19-5 on the season.
Wisconsin’s usually electric lineup struggled against Michigan ace Megan Betsa, who showed why she has been selected to three All-Big Ten teams in as many years for the Wolverines. The Badgers only managed two hits against the senior from Georgia, the first of which came in the bottom of the eigth off the bat of sophomore Kelly Welsh.
Both teams found ways to get runners in scoring position, but couldn’t quite break through. Wisconsin and Michigan combined to strand 23 runners over the course of the contest.
The first Wisconsin runner to reach third base came in the 7th inning. After a strikeout by Lombardo, sophomore Brianna Flugaur stole second and then advanced to third on an error by Michigan third baseman Lindsay Montemarano. With one out and a chance to end the game, sophomore Melanie Cross dropped a bunt, but the speedy Flugaur was tagged out at home. After a strikeout by freshman Jordan Little, the Badgers took the field and continued to fight to keep the score knotted at zero.
While Lombardo’s home run might appear to be the long bright spot on the Wisconsin box score, UW head coach Yvette Healy took pride in her team’s ability to do the little things.
“We were forcing errors, we were stealing bases. We've got a lot of ways to make things happen when we're not hitting,” she said.
Wisconsin resumes action tomorrow at 1 p.m., looking to clinch a crucial series win against the Wolverines at Goodman Diamond. While both pitchers were phenomenal in game one, expect to see each team’s second option as Menz and Betsa get some much needed rest before Sunday’s series finale.