The Wisconsin Badgers (4-5 Big Ten, 20-16 overall) stretched their win streak to four with two wins over conference rival Illinois (6-6, 25-13) last Thursday. The series’ third game scheduled for Friday was cancelled due to rain. The Illini were coming off a three-game sweep against Maryland in which they tallied 38 runs, but were unable to get their bats going at any point against Badger hurlers Kaitlyn Menz and Haley Hestekin. Both Menz and Hestekin went the distance on their way to their tenth wins of the year.
As is the case in many of their victories this year, the Badgers got started early on offense and carried the momentum all the way through the game. Wisconsin scored two runs in the first inning. Freshman Taylor Johnson started things off with a single, which was followed by a wild pitch and a walk to senior Kelsey Jenkins. With runners on the corners, senior Brooke Wyderski singled to short center and scored Johnson. Jenkins later scored thanks to a fielder’s choice by freshman Lauren Foster. UW led 2-0 at the end of the first.
The Badgers tacked on two more in the fourth, thanks to sac fly from Johnson and a double from Wyderski.
Menz was terrific throughout the game, taking a no-hitter into the seventh. The Illini staged a small rally in the final frame but couldn’t overcome Menz or the Badger defense. The sophomore from Waukee, Ia. struck out five, walked two and lowered her ERA below 3.4 for the first time in nearly three weeks.
Game two was even more of a statement for the Badgers than the first one. The Badgers had ten hits, including two home runs, in a 6-2 victory that never seemed as close as the score indicates. Taylor Johnson continued her phenomenal freshman campaign with a two-hit day, highlighted by a leadoff homer in the first. Wisconsin broke through in the fourth inning thanks to a three-run bomb by junior Stephanie Lombardo that scored Wyderski and Jenkins. The home run was the tenth of Lombardo’s career and helped cement the victory for Wisconsin, a crucial Big Ten win that brings the Badgers their first series win in the conference this year.
Another double by Jenkins in the sixth, followed by a fielder’s choice from Melanie Cross, made it a six run lead for Wisconsin. Jenkins reached base twice in each game Thursday, extending her school-record 36 game on-base streak.
Hestkin, like Menz, weathered a comeback attempt in the seventh, holding the damage to two runs. The freshman had one of her best performances this season, striking out five and only walking one while throwing 100 pitches.
The Badgers showed their perfect recipe for success this weekend and gave plenty of reason to assume their best softball is yet to come. Next up is a big double header under the lights against archrival Minnesota (7-4, 24-14) in Minneapolis. The Badgers fell twice against the Gophers last year, who were ranked No. 5 when Wisconsin took them on at Goodman Diamond. First pitch Wednesday is at 4 p.m.