The No. 22 Badgers couldn’t quite pull out a victory against Nebraska in their home opener, falling 7-4 in eight innings. After a hot start that brought in four runs in the first four innings, Wisconsin’s offense cooled down and was held scoreless for the last four innings of the contest.
Freshman pitcher Kaitlyn Menz look the loss, dropping her record to 14-3 on the year. Friday was an unusual outing for the Badgers’ ace, as she allowed a season-high 11 hits and seven runs while matching her season low for strikeouts with one.
Senior Chloe Miller got things started in the first inning with a double to left-center on the seventh pitch of her at bat, driving in junior Kelsey Jenkins for a run. UW tacked on another run on in the third to make it a 2-0 game when a squeeze from sophomore Melanie Cross brought in sophomore McKenna Heim. Menz and the Wisconsin defense had held the Huskers in check to that point, allowing just one hit in the first three innings.
The fourth inning brought plenty of offensive action from both squads. Nebraska got things started in the top of the inning with two consecutive hits, a single and a double, to put runners on second and third with no outs. The next batter sent a single up the middle to score both runners and knot the game at 2-2. Cornhusker pitcher Kaylan Jablonski, who came in to replace starter Cassie McClure after she left in the first with an injury, then slapped a double that scored another run and gave Nebraska a one-run lead. The lead wouldn’t last long, though. With one out and a runner on, Miller homered on a 3-2 pitch from Jablonski, her seventh home run this year. She leads all Division I players with a .518 batting average.
Nebraska would rally again, however, and tie the game at four in the top of the fifth. Neither team was able to score in the final two innings, sending the game into extras. Menz retired the first two batters of the eighth, but that final out burned the Badgers. Two consecutive hitters walked, and both scored when Jablonski homered to blow the game open at 7-4.
UW couldn’t muster a rally of its own and the game ended with a groundout to short by Miller. Miller, who had three hits and three RBIs, was the only Badger to register multiple hits.
In the second game of the series Saturday and for the second time in as many days, the No. 21 Wisconsin Badgers (2-3 Big Ten 23-5 overall) couldn’t get past Jablonski and her Nebraska Cornhuskers (2-3, 10-20) at Goodman Diamond. After starting off the year with 26 games away from home, the Badgers have struggled in their first two games in Madison this season. Wisconsin led for most of the day but fell victim to a huge five-run fifth inning by the Huskers that shifted momentum in the visitors’ favor.
The action began early for the Badgers once again. Nebraska’s starter Sydney McLeod walked the first three hitters to load the bases with no outs. McLeod then beaned cleanup hitter Sara Novak, handing Wisconsin an early 1-0 lead.
Nebraska Coach Rhonda Revelle decided to switch things up after McLeod’s early struggles, replacing her with Jablonski. Jablonski was able to hold the Badgers in check Friday, and had no trouble in game two either. The junior allowed only one run over seven innings of work, and helped herself out by knocking in two runs on a double in the fifth inning.
Entering the fifth inning, Nebraska’s offense had managed only two hits off senior Kirsten Stevens. However, that changed very quickly. With one out and runners on first and second, the game’s pivotal at bat came from Nebraska junior Laura Barrow. Down 0-2 in the count, Barrow managed to hold off Stevens with multiple foul balls before finally drawing a walk on the eighth pitch of the at bat, loading the bases.
Next, the Huskers leadoff batter hit a ground ball at senior first baseman Sara Novak, who misplayed the ball. The three-year starter came into the game with only one error in the team’s last eight games. The next three batters for Nebraska all hit safely and the Cornhuskers erased the Badger’s lead with a five-run inning.
UW was unable to score any runs in the bottom half of the inning and Nebraska picked up right where they left off the previous inning. Before Wisconsin could record an out, the Cornhuskers plated three more runs and took an 8-2 lead.
Wisconsin appeared to begin a rally of sorts in the bottom of the seventh, but could only manage one run against Jablonski.
“I’ve been impressed with how gritty she’s been,” head coach Yvette Healy said. “She’s really a competitor.”
While the junior from Omaha’s record on the year may only be 5-10, that has more to do with Nebraska’s strength of schedule than her skill. Last season, Jablonski threw a no-hitter and recorded seven complete games as a sophomore.