Wisconsin Badgers softball (17-10, 4-2) celebrated their 2023 home opener by winning two out of three versus Illinois (22-14, 1-5) at the Goodman Diamond this weekend.
Coach Yvette Healy continued to surprise with her pitching usage, leaning almost exclusively on Tessa Magnanimo in the three-game set. The senior’s performance tailed off as the weekend progressed, but she and the Badger offense did enough to secure another pair of Big Ten wins.
Friday | 6-2 W
Magnanimo yielded two runs on three hits before recording an out in the first inning. Wisconsin’s Kayla Konwent responded with her seventh home run of the season, a remarkable two-run blast on an eye-level fastball.
Ellie Hubbard’s first career home run gave the Badgers a 3-2 lead in the fourth. Wisconsin added another three runs in the fifth on Brooke Kuffel’s two-run single and an RBI double to left-center by Hubbard. The sophomore shortstop has not only emerged as a capable hitter — she’s now slugging to all parts of the field and providing a massive boost to the bottom half of the lineup.
Magnanimo (W, 2-1) hardly broke a sweat after the first inning. She proceeded to throw six more innings with two hits, no walks and nine strikeouts for a 105-pitch complete game. Illinois had four plate appearances with a runner in scoring position from the second inning on, and each ended in a strikeout.
Sunday | 6-4 L
Wisconsin reversed the trend of early deficits by taking a 3-0 lead in the first three innings. Catcher Christaana Angelopulos ran the squeeze play to perfection in the second, dropping down a well-placed bunt to drive in Peyton Bannon. Molly Schlosser followed with a sacrifice fly before Hubbard added an RBI single in the third.
Magnanimo returned to the circle and picked up right where she left off, striking out five Fighting Illini through three perfect frames. Things unraveled in the fourth, however, as Illinois tallied two runs on a pair of singles, a double and a triple. Kailee Powell’s leadoff home run in the fifth ended Magnanimo’s outing at 62 pitches.
Maddie Schwartz (L, 5-7) entered and got through the fifth before allowing three unearned runs in the sixth, with Rylie Crane’s one-out error allowing Illinois to take a three-run lead. As they have all season, a Wisconsin error opened the door for a game-changing inning. Gabi Salo got the last four outs of the game for Wisconsin.
Angelopulos brought the Badgers within two on her first home run of the season, but it wasn’t enough.
Sunday | 10-9 W
The 20-plus mph winds blowing toward the outfield made Sunday afternoon miserable for pitchers on both sides. Magnanimo, who interestingly got the nod for a third straight game, allowed a solo shot in the first inning.
Wisconsin then chased Illinois starter Lauren Wiles before she even recorded an out. Hubbard, elevated to the two-hole, hit a two-run home run after Katie Keller drew a leadoff walk. Kuffel then homered to make it 4-1.
Another Kuffel home run made it 9-1 Badgers in the second inning, but Illinois began chipping away at the massive deficit. Through five frames it was suddenly 10-9 Wisconsin, and Magnanimo inexplicably remained in the game. She got through the sixth and seventh unscathed, though, capping off her second complete game of the weekend. Magnanimo (W, 3-1) allowed 13 hits and eight earned runs on 136 pitches.
Schwartz and Salo had thrown 29 and 18 pitches, respectively, while Paytn Monticelli hadn’t appeared in a game all weekend. It’s unclear why Healy stuck with Magnanimo through her struggles and apparent fatigue, but it worked out in the end for Wisconsin.
Between the two teams, the weekend finale featured 20 hits, 19 runs, six doubles, six hit-by-pitches, five home runs and a triple.
Six home runs in a three-game span is a refreshing sight for the Badgers. Konwent only hitting one of those, while Kuffel and Hubbard continued their breakout campaigns, is a testament to Wisconsin’s greatly improved offense in 2023.
Kuffel now boasts a 1.057 OPS with four home runs and 14 RBI, and her .340 average ranks first among qualifying Badgers.
Hubbard, meanwhile, is now hitting .294 with 11 RBI and a .400 on-base percentage. For context, the shortstop was hitting .195 after an 0-for-3 performance versus Texas on March 10, so her rise in both production and lineup placement has been rapid.
Everyone who has earned a look near the top of the order — Hubbard, Kuffel and Skylar Sirdashney — has excelled. This is an excellent problem to have for Healy, who figures to continue shuffling the lineup as 2023 progresses.
While Magnanimo’s usage — 303 pitches and 18 innings from Friday to Sunday — was puzzling, it should leave Wisconsin’s other three arms exceptionally well-rested heading into another week of games.
The Badgers are scheduled to host St. Thomas in a Tuesday double-header, but forecasted rain and thunderstorms could lead to cancellation. Wisconsin then heads to Purdue for three weekend games against the struggling Boilermakers (17-19, 2-6).