Playing like it had nothing to lose, the Wisconsin softball team came up with a big win Saturday afternoon at the Big Ten tournament, defeating No. 6 Michigan, 9-3, to advance to the title game for the first time in program history.
Wisconsin (41-11) used a big first inning to knock off the No. 1-seeded Wolverines (45-10) at Bowlin Stadium in Lincoln, Neb., earning a win over a top-10 opponent for the first time since the 2002 season.
"It was a great team effort, we are so proud," said head coach Yvette Healy. "The team came out, pitched really well and was firing on offense. A lot of people contributed and I think that was the key to success."
After surviving a pair of errors in the top of the first inning, Wisconsin's offense got to work in the bottom of the frame.
A leadoff double by Mary Massei set the tone for the day and a double by Whitney Massey scored the first run. A single and a walk loaded the bases, setting up a crucial pinch hit situation for Macy Oswald. Oswald drew a walk and the Badgers took a 2-0 lead.
With the table set, Stefanni LaJeunesse stepped into the batter’s box for her biggest pinch hit at bat of the season. With a 2-2 count, LaJeunesse launched a ball over the left center field fence to put Wisconsin up 6-0.
"A lot of people came in off the bench," continued Healy. "Stefanni LaJeunesse hit the big grand slam, Marissa Mersch had a great day with two hits, and Ashley Van Zeeland and Maria Van Abel put the pressure on. Offensively a lot of kids worked hard to put the ball in play and make things happen."
Cassandra Darrah went to work in the circle for the Badgers, holding Michigan hitless until the fourth inning.
"Cassandra (Darrah) did a great job on the mound. Michigan has one of the best offenses in the country and she was able to limit their hits and contain them."
The Badgers plated their seventh run in the bottom of the fourth, taking advantage of a Michigan error to score an unearned run.
Michigan led off the top of the fifth with a home run and finished the inning with three runs on four hits, but the Badgers didn’t break.
Wisconsin answered back with a pair of runs in the bottom of the sixth and held off the Wolverine’s threat in the top of the seventh to earn the 9-3 upset.
Darrah allowed three runs on six hits and struck out four in her 25th win of the season. Michigan’s Haylie Wagner suffered the loss, pitching 1.0 innings and allowed six earned runs on four hits.
"It is a great win for our team to be in the championship game of Big Ten tournament," finished Healy. "It means a lot; we are playing with a lot of heart right now and just trying to keep it rolling."
Wisconsin returns to Bowlin Stadium on Sunday at noon for the Big Ten championship game. The Badgers will play Minnesota, who defeated Nebraska 1-0 in Saturday's other semifinal game.