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Thursday, February 29, 2024
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Thriller versus Alabama concludes winning weekend for Badgers

Entering with a nine-game win streak, the Badgers held their own against their toughest competition to date, finishing the weekend 3-2.

The Wisconsin Badgers softball team (13-8) went 3-2 at the Bevo Classic in Austin, Texas this weekend.

Wisconsin split its first four games, beating Texas State (17-7) twice and losing both matchups with ninth-ranked Texas (21-3-1). The weekend culminated in a thrilling comeback win over 13th-ranked Alabama (20-6). Defensive issues returned to plague the Badgers, but they played well enough otherwise to keep pace with their best competition to date in 2023. 

Friday: 4-2 W vs. Texas State

Gabi Salo opened the weekend with a gem for Wisconsin, but with the Badgers unable to solve Bobcat starter Jessica Mullins, the game remained scoreless after eight innings. 

Wisconsin then scored four runs in the top of the 10th with just one hit — a Christaana Angelopulos two-run single to make it 4-0 after an error, wild pitch, walk and hit batter had gotten the Badgers on the board.

Salo allowed a couple unearned runs in the bottom of the inning. With two outs and the tying run up, Maddie Schwartz entered and secured the win with a strikeout. The 124-pitch, 8.2 inning outing continued Salo’s stellar 2023 campaign and eliminated any doubt about her belonging in the starting rotation.

Friday: 5-1 L vs. Texas

The Longhorns outhit the Badgers 10-2, but the game was close until Texas tagged Paytn Monticelli and Schwartz for three runs in the fifth inning. Monticelli (5-1) suffered her first loss in one of her worst outings thus far, allowing four runs (three earned) on six hits in four innings. 

Wisconsin’s only run came in the sixth, when second baseman Rylie Crane came around to score after a double — the team’s first hit of the game.

Saturday: 4-3 W vs. Texas State 

Monticelli allowed three runs (one earned) in a 30-pitch, 1.2-inning start. Luckily, the Badgers started hot with four first-inning runs on four singles and a hit-by-pitch. 

Wisconsin’s bullpen, with 2.1 innings from Tessa Magnanimo (W, 1-1) and three from Schwartz (second save of 2023), held Texas State scoreless after Monticelli’s departure. Fascinatingly, each Badger arm threw exactly 30 pitches in the win. 

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Badger first baseman Katie Keller led the way with a double in a 3-for-3 performance. Shortstop Ellie Hubbard, who continues to improve at the plate, went 2-for-3 with a pair of RBI.

Saturday: 7-4 L vs. Texas

Molly Schlosser singled Kayla Konwent and Peyton Bannon home to give the Badgers a 1-0 first-inning lead. Things went downhill quickly for Wisconsin after that, though, largely due to defensive miscues. 

With two outs in the first, a Hubbard error opened the door for Texas’s Courtney Day to tie it with a two-run home run. Crane’s second-inning error led to two more unearned runs in a three-run frame for the Longhorns, who built a 5-2 lead. Salo’s tough-luck start ended after 1.2 innings with four unearned runs. 

Konwent hit a two-run shot in the fifth to bring Wisconsin within two, but Longhorn reliever Sophia Simpson entered for a three-inning, six-strikeout save to secure the win. 

Sunday: 7-6 W vs. Alabama

Six lead changes highlighted a wild weekend finale versus the Crimson Tide. The game began in frustratingly familiar fashion for Wisconsin, as a Schlosser error led to an unearned run off Monticelli in her third start of the weekend. 

Wisconsin returned the favor in the fourth, when Skylar Sirdashney followed an error and a hit-by-pitch with a two-out, two-run double. The Tide responded in the bottom of the inning, though, regaining the lead and chasing Monticelli with a three-run home run. 

Crane and Angelopulos strung together two-out hits in a three-run fifth inning, which put the Badgers up 5-4. Alabama responded with a two-run shot, of course. Konwent’s second home run in as many games then put Wisconsin ahead for good. 

Schwartz (3-5) settled in after the fifth-inning home run and earned the victory with hitless sixth and seventh frames. 

Climbing the ranks

Wisconsin’s 13-8 record may be too modest to justify a top-25 ranking at this point in the season. That said, the competitive showings versus ranked opponents suggested the 2023 Badgers can compete on a national level. The weekend would have been an even greater success if not for Wisconsin’s 11 errors in five games.

Monticelli’s ERA rose to a disappointing 2.10 after her worst set of games to date. Still, the freshman has held her own against some of the nation’s best teams so far this year and should see no role reduction for now. 

As Salo’s sample size has grown, her performance hasn’t wavered. The sophomore boasts an absurd 0.68 ERA and 0.75 WHIP through 30.2 innings, and the impact of her emergence is twofold. For one, she’s delivering dominant outings like Friday’s versus Texas State, giving the Badgers a full game and then some to get their offense going. Also, Salo being a dependable starter allows coach Yvette Healy to use Schwartz primarily in a relief role, calling upon the trustworthy senior when Wisconsin needs her most. 

Wisconsin’s offense has benefited greatly from the development of the freshman Crane, who’s slashing .310/.375/.448 in 29 at-bats. The starting second-base job should be hers going forward, barring any major regression.

Sirdashney’s surprising success as a leadoff hitter (.425 OBP), Keller’s continued excellence in the two-hole (.898 OPS) and Konwent’s usual power-hitting prowess (five home runs, 1.051 OPS) make the top of Wisconsin’s order a nightmare for opposing pitchers. 

After a mostly successful cross-country tour, the Badgers are finally ready to begin the Big Ten schedule. Their conference matchups kick off March 24-26 with a three-game set at Michigan State. 

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