Wisconsin splits Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic, but has countless positives to take away

The Badgers split their six-game tournament, but had plenty of positives to take away.

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger

Wisconsin softball (7-7) had an up-and-down weekend at the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic in Palm Springs, Calif, going 3-3 against a tough slate of opponents. There are still plenty of questions surrounding the Badgers this season as head coach Yvette Healy looks to find her go-to lineup, but one thing is for certain: Wisconsin is a talented group that can play with anyone in the nation when its on its game.

The Badgers opened things up on Thursday with a huge upset against No. 6 Auburn (17-2), winning 3-2 in a back-and-forth battle. Sophomore ace Kaitlyn Menz showed poise beyond her age, holding the Tigers to six hits while striking out eight.

Later that same day, Wisconsin had another opportunity to pick up a big win but failed to build on its earlier upset and took a close loss to no. 16 Oklahoma State (9-6) after holding the lead for most of the game. Freshman pitcher Haley Hestekin, who’s stellar start to her first college season is reminiscent of Menz’s 2017 campaign, threw well in the contest. She struck out six while only allowing two runs, but couldn’t quite finish the job for the Badgers, dropping her record to 1-2 on the year.

Next up for Wisconsin was Fresno State (7-7), who gave the Badgers all they could handle in a tightly contested eight-inning game. The Badgers’ were led by star seniors Brooke Wyderski and Kelsey Jenkins, a one-two offensive punch as potent as any. Wyderski, who transferred from Loyola University of Chicago prior to last season, had three hits and two RBIs while fellow middle infielder Jenkins had two hits and one RBI in UW’s victory over the Bulldogs.

With 15 and 16 hits on the year, respectively, Wyderski and Jenkins are ranked first and second on the team, while also being the only two Badgers batting above .300.

Once again, Wisconsin looked to carry its momentum from a big win into the next day and grab another victory, this time facing Missouri (10-7). Unfortunately, for the second time, the Badgers were bested by a competitive opponent that flat out played better than them. In their sloppiest performance of the season thus far, Wisconsin committed five errors and managed only four hits. Even with their ace on the mound, the Badgers struggled all day with Missouri at the plate. Menz allowed only two runs in four innings but gave up five hits and walked four on her way to her third loss of the season.

At points during the tournament it seemed as if there were two University of Wisconsin softball teams at work: the tough bunch who pulled off a top-five upset and the group that struggled to make routine defensive plays just a few days later.

Consistency will come with more experience, and games like UW’s contest against San Jose State (9-7) reinforce the fact that Wisconsin team can be great if its come out playing to its full potential.

The Badgers earned a tough 1-0 victory in what was essentially a home game for the Spartans, playing perfect defense behind Hekestin en route to the freshman’s second shutout of the year. A tough defensive battle to the end, Wisconsin only took its lead in the sixth inning after a passed ball allowed sophomore outfielder Heather Rudnicki to score the games first and final run. Rudnicki pinch ran for freshman Lauren Foster, who has played something of a utility roll for Wisconsin this year, seeing time at three different positions during the tournament. Foster proved yet again that these Badgers won’t be fazed with the pressure on, as the Wisconsin native slapped a single up the middle, only the team’s third hit of the day. Rudnicki’s smart baserunning finished the job, and the Badgers earned their third victory of the tournament.

Wisconsin’s final opponent was its toughest yet, No. 1 Washington (18-0). The Huskies had breezed through most competition thus far, scoring in double-digits in seven of their first 16 wins. Healy gave Hekestin the start, and the freshman didn’t disappoint, tossing all seven innings, only allowing two earned runs on six hits. The Huskies, however, showed that they earned that top ranking behind a stellar pitching performance of their own.

Wisconsin struggled to get the bats going all afternoon, and didn’t plate a run until the seventh inning. The Badgers’ failed rally began with a Taylor Johnson double and a single from fellow freshman Lauren Foster, placing runners on the corners with no outs. With one down, Jenkins grounded out to score Johnson and give the Badgers their lone run.

While a 3-3 record on the tournament may not seem stellar, there were plenty of encouraging signs from Wisconsin in Palm Springs, particularly from its freshman. With a team that is still feeling itself out against a tough schedule, 7-7 is not a bad start to the 2018 campaign. Up next for Wisconsin is a trip to Tampa for the USF Tournament. This trip includes no ranked teams, so the Badgers should be able to play extremely competitively and perhaps leave Florida 12-7. First pitch is against Central Michigan, Friday at 12:30 p.m.

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