Wisconsin Softball (2-6) collected its first wins of 2023 this weekend in Atlanta, taking a pair over Georgia Tech while losing both contests versus Louisville.
More extra-base hits and overall improvement at the plate fueled the wins over Georgia Tech. Against Louisville, however, the Cardinals’ seventh-inning rallies were enough to overcome strong Badger pitching performances.
Friday | 6-3 W @ Georgia Tech
After leaving Puerto Vallarta without a home run in four games, the Badgers enjoyed a power surge versus the Yellow Jackets. Leadoff hitter Katie Keller continued her strong start to 2023 with a solo shot in the third inning, launching a middle-in pitch over the center field wall.
Georgia Tech entered the sixth inning with a 3-1 deficit but rallied to tie it. Catcher Emma Kauf ended Paytn Monticelli’s relief outing with a leadoff home run before Maddie Schwartz entered and allowed a solo home run of her own.
Wisconsin wasted no time retaking the lead in the top of the seventh. Second baseman Ava Kuszak muscled a fly ball to right field for a leadoff home run — the clutch, go-ahead blast was also Kuszak’s first career hit. Keller then walked on four pitches before Kayla Konwent, who had already tallied an RBI single in the game, launched a two-run shot.
Schwartz (1-3) held the 6-3 lead for her first victory of the season. With hits from seven different players and four total extra-base hits, it was easily Wisconsin’s most well-rounded offensive showing thus far.
Saturday | 2-0 L vs. Louisville
Entering the circle again after throwing just 21 pitches Friday, Schwartz faced Louisville’s Taylor Roby in a thrilling pitcher’s duel.
With the game scoreless in the top of the seventh, the Cardinals finally got to Schwartz. Shortstop Daisy Hess led off with a single, advanced to second on a successful bunt and scored on a Vanessa Miller double. Second baseman Easton Lotus added another run with an RBI single.
Wisconsin went quietly with three popouts to secure the 2-0 loss. Roby was terrific in a 119-pitch, complete-game shutout, striking out seven while allowing just four singles and a walk.
It was a tough-luck loss for Schwartz (1-4), who pitched her second complete game with no run support. She was sharper than in last weekend’s seven-inning outing against BYU, striking out five Cardinals and walking none. With the Badgers unable to get any runs across, however, it didn’t matter.
Saturday | 6-1 W vs. Georgia Tech
Monticelli got the ball for game two of the Saturday doubleheader. Her first career start began poorly, as Georgia Tech’s Sara Beth Allen hit a solo home run in the first inning.
Badger first baseman Brooke Kuffel responded with a three-run home run in the bottom of the first. The sophomore, who hit three home runs last season, jumped on a pitch right down the middle and smashed it to left-center.
The home run chased Yellow Jacket starter Kinsey Norton after one inning. Wisconsin made things tough on Georgia Tech’s bullpen as well, scoring on a wild pitch in the second before adding a pair of runs in the sixth.
Monticelli (1-0), meanwhile, shook off the early run to log an excellent start. She struck out seven and allowed only three hits over six innings, earning the win. The freshman enjoyed a strong debut in Puerto Vallarta and continued to impress.
Tessa Magnanimo made her first appearance of the weekend, closing out the 6-1 victory with a scoreless, albeit three-hit seventh inning.
Sunday | 2-1 L @ Louisville
Third baseman Skylar Sirdashney gave Wisconsin an early lead with an RBI single in the first inning. The Badgers squandered a chance at a big inning, though, as center fielder Molly Schlosser struck out looking with the bases loaded.
The efficient, 80-pitch outing Saturday allowed Monticelli to start again Sunday. Once again, she allowed a first-inning solo shot before settling in. Monticelli exited with a no-decision: three-plus innings, three strikeouts and three hits on 55 pitches.
Schwartz entered and held the 1-1 tie through the sixth inning. In the bottom of the seventh, Louisville won it with a leadoff single, a stolen base and a Lotus walk-off double, dealing Schwartz (1-5) another loss.
Stranding three runners in the first came back to bite the Badgers, who managed just four more baserunners the rest of the game. Over seven innings, Cardinal pitcher Alyssa Zabala struck out six and induced a pair of double plays.
Signs of improvement
Beyond the pair of wins, Wisconsin’s performance in Atlanta was far more encouraging than last weekend in Mexico.
For one, the Badgers cut down on defensive miscues. Wisconsin committed three total errors over four games, and none led to unearned runs. That’s a far cry from Puerto Vallarta, where they totaled nine errors and lost to Oregon because of poor defense.
As the defense improves, all signs point to Wisconsin being an exceptional run prevention team. That includes catcher Christaana Angelopulos, who has gone hitless in 12 at-bats but threw out a pair of would-be base stealers.
Most important, of course, is Wisconsin’s improved pitching depth from a year ago. Schwartz lowered her ERA to 3.16 and her WHIP to 1.19 with the bounce-back weekend. No, her 1-5 record isn’t flattering, and 11 strikeouts in 24.1 innings isn’t too impressive, but Schwartz is doing her part to keep the Badgers in games.
Without putting too much weight into an 18.1-inning sample size, it’s safe to say Monticelli will play a huge role on this year’s pitching staff. With a 1.15 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and 21 strikeouts, she’s been Wisconsin’s best arm so far and may have usurped Magnanimo as the No. 2 behind Schwartz.
That said, Magnanimo (1.05 ERA) will remain a crucial piece as the season progresses. Even Gabi Salo, who started the first Georgia Tech game and has allowed one earned run through 4.1 innings, is pulling her weight as valuable depth.
Offensively, Wisconsin’s four home runs from four different hitters were promising. Keller continues to stand out, slashing .364/.444/.545 with two extra-base hits and four walks. Her versatility as a catcher and first baseman figures to make her a mainstay in the lineup, barring injury.
Sirdashney has hit .304 with a pair of doubles. Konwent leads the team with four RBI — expect her .217 average to climb as the spring progresses.
A weak link in the Badger lineup has been shortstop Ellie Hubbard, who is hitting .105 with just two singles and eight strikeouts. Hubbard slashed .270/.366/.365 in 2022 — returning to that form as a singles hitter would stretch out Wisconsin’s lineup and possibly give Keller more RBI opportunities.
Wisconsin now heads to Boca Raton, Florida for five games from Thursday through Saturday. Stay tuned to The Daily Cardinal for a recap of the action versus Florida Atlantic, Boston College, North Carolina and Villanova.