The Wisconsin softball team lost each of its three games at Illinois this weekend and dropped to 20-11 on the season.
Minimal run production and high strikeout totals plagued the Badgers’ offense at Illinois’ Eichelberger Field as the Fighting Illini won 4-1, 4-2 and 7-1.
Maddie Schwartz, the stalwart of Wisconsin’s pitching staff, started Game 1 on Saturday afternoon and struggled to miss bats—it was the first of her last 15 starts without a strikeout. Schwartz walked three batters in the 87-pitch, six-inning outing while allowing nine hits and four earned runs.
Illinois struck first in the second inning, taking a 2-0 lead on a pair of RBI singles. The RBI hits came from eight-hitter Paige Berkmeyer and nine-hitter Gabi Robles, whose bottom-of-the-order production proved invaluable to Illinois’ offense.
Wisconsin center fielder Ally Miklesh cut the deficit in half with a solo home run in the fourth—her second longball of the season. The senior is enjoying a stellar 2022 campaign at the middle of Wisconsin’s lineup, slashing .392/.494/.527 with 19 runs, 13 RBI and nine stolen bases.
The Fighting Illini struck back with a pair of runs in their half of the fourth and extended their lead to 4-1. Wisconsin got two runners on base in the fifth but failed to score before going quietly in the sixth and seventh.
It was a dismal showing from the Badger offense, which managed two hits while striking out 13 times and not drawing a walk. Illinois pitcher Tori McQueen was excellent in her ninth win, throwing 101 pitches in the seven-inning effort. Her ability to keep the ball up, highlighted by the strikeout total and Wisconsin’s lack of ground balls, led to a dominant outing.
Wisconsin didn’t have to wait long for another shot at McQueen, as the teams began Game 2 of the Saturday doubleheader after a short break. The Badgers didn’t have much more success, though, going hitless until the fourth inning.
With Schwartz resting, the Badgers had Ava Justman on the mound and she failed to get nine outs. The left-handed sophomore allowed a two-run home run and a walk before exiting in the third inning. Tessa Magnanimo was greeted by another two-run shot upon entering, and the Badgers trailed 4-0.
Justman’s final line was three earned runs on four hits and a pair of walks in 2.2 innings. She failed to record a strikeout. Magnanimo kept the game within reach, allowing three more hits but no additional runs after the home run.
Wisconsin managed a run on a Kayla Konwent RBI single in the sixth, then added another when pinch-hitter Jolie Fish homered in the seventh. No matter, Illinois held on to win 4-2.
While the Badgers made more contact in Game 2, they still managed only three hits and a pair of walks. McQueen impressed once again, throwing 108 pitches in another complete game.
McQueen wasn’t in the circle for the series finale Sunday afternoon. Instead, Wisconsin went up against Lauren Wiles, who entered with a 3-2 record. Schwartz started for the Badgers.
Much like in the first two games, Illinois scored first, this time on an RBI groundout after a pair of hits in the second inning.
Konwent tied the game with a solo home run in the third inning. It was the seventh home run of 2022 for the senior, and her 4-for-4 performance in the leadoff spot was one of few bright spots for Wisconsin’s offense all weekend. With a 1.302 OPS and 23 RBI, Kowent has been nothing short of spectacular this season.
Illinois took a 2-1 lead in the fourth inning and chased Schwartz after only 40 pitches and four-plus innings. Wisconsin’s ace had one of her worst outings of the season to date, allowing seven runs (three earned) on eight hits and a walk while striking out three. The senior’s body of work is undeniable, though—even after the uncharacteristic weekend, Schwartz is still 15-5 with a 2.64 ERA and 73:25 K:BB in 108.2 innings.
Magnanimo entered in relief for the second consecutive game and pitched well once again, striking out a pair in two scoreless innings. She boasts a 2.01 ERA and 22:3 K:BB across 14 appearances this season and is clearly Wisconsin’s top weapon out of the bullpen.
The Badgers managed seven hits in the 7-1 loss, although four of those came from Konwent. Strikeouts, 12 of them this time, returned to be an issue for Wisconsin’s lineup.
Wisconsin now sits at 20-11 on the season, but more importantly a pedestrian 5-4 in conference play. The weekend sweep was undoubtedly the low point of the season so far, as the Badgers’ inept offense gave the team little chance of winning.
Further, a rough weekend from Schwartz exposed Wisconsin’s relative lack of pitching depth. Justman, the No. 2 starter, has a 3.77 ERA and opponents have hit .286 off her in 61.1 innings.
The Badgers will look to return to their winning ways this weekend when they host Michigan State in a three-game set at the Goodman Diamond in Madison.