May 1, 2014
BY MIKE LUCAS
MADISON, Wis. -- The wheels were turning -- not coming off -- between games of Wednesday's doubleheader at Goodman Diamond. Instead of dwelling on a 12-0 loss to Nebraska in a "run-rule" five-inning opener, the players' focus was on what the Wisconsin softball team could do better to salvage a split.
"It (the loss) was not even in our minds anymore," said UW senior outfielder Mary Massei.
Whatever they "visualized" during that 20-minute break summarily materialized in the nightcap as the Badgers roared back for a 6-4 victory -- marking only the third time in the 14-game series between the programs that they had beaten the Cornhuskers, who were making their first visit to Madison.
"We don't get upset when things don't go our way," said sophomore Taylor-Paige Stewart, the second-game starter and winner. "We just bounce back; we've bounced back the entire season."
Stewart's batterymate, catch Chloe Miller, also shrugged off the first game loss -- "It happens," she said -- after the Huskers snapped UW's 13-game winning streak, the third-longest in the nation. Healy's alma matter, DePaul, owns the longest active streak, now having won 19 straight after beating Northwestern, 9-3, Wednesday. Fordham has won 15 in a row.
"We weren't really supposed to win any of these games," Miller said. "People don't even mention us. They call us `soft spots' in people's schedules and so we were really more determined after taking a romping from Nebraska. That's their thing. They hit people and run over them."
Healy pointed out that it really didn't matter if the Huskers won 12-0 or 1-0 in the opener. It was all the same to them; a loss is a loss. "I don't think it was us playing bad," Healy reasoned afterward, "as much as it was them playing at the high level that they've been playing at all year."
In extending their own winning streak to 11 in a row overall -- 12 straight in the Big Ten -- the Cornhuskers had outscored their opponents, 94-4 -- and that's not a misprint -- 94-4. Over those 11 wins, they had posted eight shutouts. No one had scored on Nebraska since April 18; 40-plus innings.
Moreover, the Badgers were the seventh victim of the "eight-run" mercy rule during the streak. But not to worry -- Mary Massei wasn't. Really, she wasn't. Although the Huskers had flexed their muscles with three home runs -- including two grand slams -- in the 12-0 rout, it counted as just one loss.
"We were all thinking, `We still have a chance to get one from Nebraska and that's all we had our minds on," said Massei, one of four seniors. "In-between games, we visualized (the second game) -- we pictured improvements that we wanted to make and what could be different (about the outcome)."
|“Chloe is not a freshman,” Stewart said of her rookie catcher, Miller. “She’s very mature behind the plate. She keeps everyone calm.”
Scoring was the biggest difference. With two outs in the bottom of the first inning, Miller doubled home the first run of the game for the Badgers; the first given up by the Huskers in 41.1 innings. "We knew right away that was big for us to break that (shutout) streak," Massei said.
Nebraska pitcher Tatum Edwards had been 5-0 with three consecutive shutouts and a 0.42 ERA during Nebraska's winning streak. Edwards, the 2013 Big Ten Pitcher of the Year and a second-team All-American, had not given up any runs in 23.1 innings before the Badgers took their 1-0 lead.
It was short-lived. The power-laden Cornhuskers countered with two runs in the second inning and had the bases loaded with the top of their batting order coming up and nobody out against Stewart, who didn't help herself with back-to-back walks.
"Innings become longer with walks," Stewart rationalized. "It's hard for the defense to fully stay focused when you're throwing a bunch of balls. But I just tried to take it one pitch at a time, especially with the bases loaded. You're thinking one out at a time."
Stewart kept her composure and got out of the jam by setting down Taylor Edwards, Hailey Decker and Tatum Edwards (the Edwards are twins; Taylor is the only All-American catcher in Nebraska history and one of the most feared power hitters in college softball with 52 career homers).
The aforementioned trio had combined for 12 RBIs in the first game.
"She did a nice job of spinning the ball," Healy said. "The pitchers have been complementing each other all year. We always say whoever goes in first, you're kind of the one testing out the hitters. Even though we got the loss in the first game, you learn a little about them and how to throw to them."
After watching the Huskers take some mighty cuts on Cassandra Darrah, the only thing that Stewart brought into her starting assignment was the obvious. "I really just had to come ready for a team that was swinging the bat," she said. "I had to bring my `A' game."
She definitely had her "A" stuff against Taylor Edwards, who went 1-for-5 and had trouble squaring up Stewart's pitches, namely her rise ball. "She jammed her and got her chasing some of those pitches," Miller said, "and she popped up almost every time. She (Stewart) did a phenomenal job."
After Stewart limited the damage in the top half of the second, the Badgers went to work in the bottom half of the inning. Massei's double with the bases loaded was the critical hit in a three-run uprising. "I just wanted to take my hacks," she said. "I wasn't putting any pressure on myself."
Massei's total concentration was on "staying in the moment" and she delivered. After Nebraska tied the game on Tatum Edwards' two-run homer in the fifth, the Badgers once again had an answer. With a runner on base, Miller got her "pitch" and drilled a shot off the scoreboard to make it 6-4.
On her first inning double, Miller was fooled. "It was a changeup and I didn't really expect it, but I kept my bat out there and got it through the infield," she admitted. "We knew Edwards threw that heavy drop ball and if you get your bat to it, you can golf that thing out and it's going to go."
Her game-winning homer looked like she hit a 3-iron off a tee.
Miller, a freshman from Bettendorf, Iowa, has started all 47 games for the Badgers.
"Chloe is not a freshman," Stewart contended. "She does not act like a freshman and we don't treat her as a freshman. I forget that she is one, honestly. She's very mature behind the plate. She keeps everyone calm. She's just a kid that you enjoy being around."
Stewart didn't kid around with Nebraska in the seventh inning. Three up, three down. The second out was turned in unassisted by first baseman Stephanie Peace, who backhanded a grounder and dove head-first into the bag to beat the runner.
"We definitely feed off each other's energy; every good play leads to another good play," said Miller, who brought context to the team's resiliency. "All season long, we've been able to take blows left and right. We get knocked down but we get back up again."
By rebounding to beat the Cornhuskers the way they did, Stewart felt like the Badgers had taken another important step in solidifying their foundation as a program "because Nebraska is such a legacy team and it was big for us in trying to create a name for Wisconsin."
That quest will continue this weekend with a three-game series at Michigan.