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Friday, March 01, 2024
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Offense shines, defense alarms as Badgers take two of three from Michigan State

In their first weekend of Big Ten action this season, Wisconsin went 2-1 in East Lansing.

The Wisconsin Badgers (15-9, 2-1) began 2023 conference play this weekend with a pair of wins and a loss at Michigan State (10-14, 1-2). 

Contributions up and down the lineup fueled an impressive offensive performance and helped Wisconsin overcome some early pitching woes versus the Spartans. Having won 15 of their last 20 games, the Badgers are in full stride just in time for a return home to the Goodman Diamond. 

Friday | 5-3 W

Third baseman Skylar Sirdashney has settled into her new leadoff role in recent weeks and was at the center of the action to open the series, going 2-for-3 with two RBI, two runs, a walk and a stolen base. 

She squandered a scoring chance in the first inning on a failed attempt to steal home but tried again and succeeded in the third. In her next at-bat, Sirdashney cleared the left field wall with ease, giving Wisconsin a 3-1 lead with her first home run of the season. 

Rylie Crane added a couple insurance runs with a two-run double that inning, continuing her excellent performance of late with a two-hit game. 

Wisconsin benefited from a lack of control by Michigan State starter Faith Guidry (L, 2-3), who issued four walks and hit two batters in seven innings.

Badger pitching, meanwhile, stayed strong all game, yielding eight hits and no walks in just 82 pitches. Breakout star Gabi Salo started and allowed a run over two innings before giving way to Maddie Schwartz. Apart from a two-run fifth, Schwartz (W, 4-5) impressed in five frames of relief. 

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Friday | 8-3 L

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Schwartz (L, 4-6) failed to carry that momentum into the second half of the doubleheader as the Spartans pieced together a two-out rally in the first inning. Three consecutive hits gave Michigan State a 2-0 lead and made Schwartz’s sixth inning of the day her last. 

Tessa Magnanimo took over and allowed two runs — one earned — in 1.2 innings. Wisconsin’s third pitcher of the game, Paytn Monticelli, also struggled with four runs — three earned — on five hits over 3.1 frames. 

The freshman came down to Earth after her otherworldly start to the season — 10 earned runs across her last four appearances have raised Monticelli’s ERA from 1.37 to 2.36, and she’s struck out less than a batter per inning in that span. 

The Badgers narrowed their deficit to 4-3 with three fourth-inning runs. Kayla Konwent homered and Christaana Angelopulos plated two more runs with a bloop single. Unable to capitalize on later scoring chances, however, Wisconsin suffered its first Big Ten loss of the spring. 

Sunday | 9-3 W

Following the formula from Friday’s first game and many recent contests, the Badgers piggybacked Salo and Schwartz through seven innings. Salo struck out a pair and yielded two hits over three innings. Errors in the second and third resulted in a pair of unearned runs, though, putting Wisconsin in another early hole.

The Badgers struck back with four runs in the top of the fifth, which began with a Molly Schlosser leadoff double. Schlosser reached third on an error then scored on another defensive miscue. Katie Keller followed with her second home run as a Badger, a two-run shot which gave Wisconsin a 3-2 lead. A wild pitch and the third Spartan error of the inning allowed Peyton Bannon to score as well. 

Wisconsin added two runs in the sixth. The next inning, the Badgers scored three times on four doubles — by Konwent, Angelopulos, Brooke Kuffel and Ellie Hubbard. 

Schwartz (W, 5-6) allowed just one hit across four efficient innings, shutting down Michigan State while Wisconsin piled on the runs. A sloppy Sunday showdown concluded with seven errors between the two teams and a Badger series victory. 

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Cleaning up

A third of the 69 runs Wisconsin has allowed this season were unearned thanks to 37 total errors. The left side of the infield has been especially culpable, with Sirdashney and Hubbard tallying nine and eight errors respectively without showing much improvement since early February. 

Offensively, however, the pair is thriving. Sirdashney has a .417 OBP with nine RBI and even saw time in the cleanup spot this weekend. Hubbard, not expected to contribute a ton at the plate, has managed a .271 average with three doubles and eight walks. 

Crane, too, has excelled. The freshman’s .325 average through 40 at-bats is earning her middle-of-the-order opportunities. Crane also went 1-for-4 with an RBI and a run as the leadoff hitter in Sunday’s win.

The Badgers once again rank near the bottom of the conference in hitting, but this year’s depth is more promising than 2022’s volatile, top-heavy lineup. Sirdashney, Hubbard and Crane have been critical in that development. 

Much of Wisconsin’s play inspired confidence in Big Ten contention this spring, but winning 15 of 24 games while committing over 1.5 errors per game is unsustainable. The frequency of unearned runs hasn’t been crippling because of Badger pitchers’ overall stinginess.

Wisconsin’s four-pronged staff has posted a 1.99 ERA through 161.2 innings — not a small sample size. The group’s 1.05 WHIP is stellar, and thanks to Salo and Monticelli’s emergences, it’s remarkably deep, too. 

In 2022, only three Badgers — Schwartz, Magnanimo and Ava Justman — threw more than seven total innings. Magnanimo’s currently on pace to finish fourth among Badgers with a substantial 28 innings, while Schwartz, Salo and Monticelli all figure to exceed 70 frames. 

Evidently, depth is the story across Wisconsin’s roster in 2023. More polished defense, which the Badgers have plenty of time to work on, would make Wisconsin a threat in the postseason. 

Wisconsin's Tuesday doubleheader versus Green Bay was canceled due to field conditions. Their first home action will be in a weekend series against Illinois and another doubleheader next Tuesday against St. Thomas. 

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