Wisconsin Softball (23-16, 8-7) lost two of three versus Nebraska (32-14, 12-5) last weekend in Lincoln.
A week after dropping all three to conference-leading Northwestern, Wisconsin now faced the Big Ten’s second best team. The Badgers managed just one win. That said, they were within a run in both losses and once again proved that, with competent defense and better production with runners in scoring position, they could make some noise in the postseason.
Friday | 7-6 L
Defense, a glaring weakness in Wisconsin’s 2023 performance, has never hurt the Badgers more than it did Friday. Starter Maddie Schwartz (L, 8-10), who threw 145 pitches over 9.2 innings in the 3.5-hour affair, stomached seven earned runs thanks to five Badger errors.
Wisconsin trailed 4-0 early before totaling five runs in the third and fourth innings. Catcher Christaana Angelopulos gave the Badgers a 6-5 lead in the eighth inning with an RBI walk. Yet Nebraska responded in the bottom of the inning, tying the game on a passed ball — Cornhusker Abbie Squier had singled and reached third on an error by right fielder Ava Kuszak.
Squier reached third base in the 10th inning thanks to an Angelopulos error. An RBI single brought her home as the winning run.
Nebraska pitcher Courtney Wallace (W, 20-8) was highly inefficient, finishing with 199 pitches in 10 innings. The conference leader in walks (89) issued eight free passes, hit a pair of batters and yielded nine hits. Wisconsin failed to capitalize on Wallace’s wildness, stealing zero bases and stranding seven runners in scoring position.
Saturday | 4-3 W
Paytn Monticelli (W, 6-2) delivered her best outing thus far versus a Big Ten opponent, albeit with an uncharacteristic statline. The freshman allowed three runs (two earned) and walked a pair in six innings with no strikeouts. Monticelli dominated high school and the early part of this season by missing bats, but she can clearly be effective without racking up strikeouts.
Katie Keller doubled home a run to tie it 1-1 in the fifth inning. Nebraska then responded in the bottom of the inning, taking the lead on Brooke Andrews’ two-run triple.
Facing a 3-1 deficit in the top of the seventh and at risk of suffering a sixth straight loss, Wisconsin ambushed starter Sarah Harness with three consecutive hits to begin the inning. The third, a Keller single, drove in two and tied the game. Kayla Konwent followed with a go-ahead RBI groundout.
Predictably, coach Yvette Healy turned to Schwartz to protect the one-run lead. Unfazed as ever, Schwartz needed just 10 pitches to complete a perfect seventh inning and earn her third save of 2023.
Sunday | 2-1 L
Skylar Sirdashney’s conference-leading 14th error put a runner in scoring position to lead off the second inning. Schwartz (L, 8-11), making her third appearance in as many games, retired the next two batters before allowing a walk and a two-run double. Both runs were unearned, much like the seven on Schwartz’s line from Friday.
Molly Schlosser pulled an RBI single in the third to make it 2-1, but Wisconsin never scored again. That wasn’t for a lack of opportunities, though, as the Badgers left six runners in scoring position in the series finale. Nebraska’s Wallace (W, 21-8) threw another 145 pitches and walked another five batters. Once again, Wisconsin failed to make Wallace pay for her control issues.
Walking, not running
The Badgers drew 18 walks, tallied 23 hits and struck out only 12 times in the three-game series. While Nebraska is a formidable opponent, Wisconsin must convert all those baserunners into far more than 11 runs.
A lack of speed continues to hurt the Badgers, who have totaled three stolen bases over their last six games. Opposing pitchers will be more inclined to attack the zone if Wisconsin can find a way to steal more bags and push more runners into scoring position.
By her lofty standards, Konwent had a fairly quiet weekend with just a pair of singles. She did draw four walks and drive in a pair of runs, but Wisconsin’s lineup isn’t nearly as threatening when Konwent, the program’s all-time home runs leader, isn’t lifting the ball and slugging. Still, her 1.207 OPS ranks fourth in the conference and her .531 OBP ranks third.
Freshman second baseman Rylie Crane has cooled off following her early-season hot streak. Her average has dropped from .300 to .250 over the last 11 games, a span during which she’s failed to tally an extra-base hit and has drawn only two walks. Crane stole a base this weekend and her four steals are tied for second-most on the roster — she could be a candidate to run more in the last few couple weeks of the season.
The massive innings load and refusal to yield earned runs have lowered Schwartz’s ERA to a sparkling 1.47. In the Big Ten, only Penn State’s Bailey Parshall boasts a better ERA (1.34). Schwartz has remarkably allowed only two runs in her last 55 innings of work, yet Wisconsin has gone 5-6 in those games. The season is nearly three months old and the Badgers still can’t solve their defensive woes, which continue to overshadow Schwartz’s dominance.
Going 1-5 against Northwestern and Nebraska put Wisconsin in a tough spot, as the Badgers are now in seventh place in the Big Ten with just eight games remaining. Silver linings aside, close losses won’t cut it going forward if Wisconsin wants a favorable seed in the Big Ten Tournament.
The Badgers host Minnesota (28-16, 9-6) for a Tuesday doubleheader before heading east for a three-game set at Maryland (31-15, 7-10). Add the regular-season finale versus Iowa (28-20, 8-9) into the equation, and Wisconsin has eight winnable games ahead.