The Wisconsin Badgers’ (13-11) trip to Tuscon, Az. for the Wildcat Invitational was a microcosm of their season so far: flashes of elite play mixed in with stretches of costly mistakes as Wisconsin took on tough competition in Tuscon, leaving the tournament with two wins and three losses.
Game one came against undefeated No. 24 USC Upstate (18-0). Wisconsin handed the Spartans their first loss of the year behind stellar pitching from sophomore Kaitlyn Menz. For four innings, neither offense could get going against the opponent’s ace. The two starters combined for 14 strikeouts in the first four frames, allowing only three hits. The Badgers broke through in the fifth when senior Kelsey Jenkins scored junior Kelly Welsh with a single up the middle. Wisconsin’s defense stayed strong all game, with its only error coming in the top of the seventh on a muffed grounder by Menz and UW won 2-0.
Wisconsin’s second opponent was No. 9 Arizona (20-2), the hosts of the tournament. Much like the game against USCU, both teams relied on the strength of their pitchers. Arizona threw Tayor McQuillin, who last year was a finalist for USA Softball Player of the Year. McQuillin kept the Badgers’ offense in check, allowing only four hits. Freshman Haley Hestekin took the circle for Wisconsin, and pitched one of her best games of the year. Hestekin allowed one run on three hits over six innings, keeping the Badgers in it even when their bats were flat. Arizona scored the game’s lone run, and took a 1-0 victory.
The next day began with another matchup against Arizona. The Badgers played solid defense, but couldn’t keep up with the Wildcats’ bats in a 9-3 loss. Arizona boasts one of the best offenses in the nation, and showed it against Wisconsin’s ace Menz. The sophomore from Iowa allowed nine earned runs over four and two thirds innings. The Badgers collected seven hits, led by senior Brooke Wyderski’s two, against Arizona’s Alyssa Denham. Wisconsin’s three runs matched Denham’s season high for runs allowed.
Next up for Wisconsin was South Dakota (8-19). The Badgers took care of business, never trailing the Coyotes in a 6-3 victory. Hestekin earned her sixth win of the season with an efficient 96 pitch complete game. As is the case in many of its wins this season, Wisconsin got off to a hot start and didn’t let up. Wyderski scored two in the first frame with a double to the gap. The next inning, junior center fielder Kelly Welsh hit a two run homer that blew the game open.
Wisconsin ended the weekend with a less than stellar performance against San Diego (14-13) in a 7-4 loss. The Badgers committed two errors and fizzled out on offense when San Diego brought in reliever Hanna Boos, failing to score after the fourth inning. Both the errors came in the seventh inning. This turned the Toreros one-run lead into a three run cushion that the Badgers couldn’t overcome. One positive takeaway for the Badgers is Kelsey Jenkins’ continued offensive production. The second baseman from Tuscon is on a six-game hitting streak and 23=game on base streak.
The Badgers have a long break before Big Ten competition begins against Rutgers at home. The Scarlet Knights visit for a three game series from March 23-25. After surviving a tough early season schedule with a plus-.500 record, Wisconsin will look to begin conference play on a high note.