By Ehsan Kassim
The Wisconsin Badgers softball team could not have envisioned a worse start to the Tuscaloosa Regional at Rhoads Stadium on Friday evening, in its 9-3 victory.
Oregon State’s (28-27) Meehra Nelson no hit Wisconsin (29-21) through three innings and had to make a pitching change after the third inning.
“It wasn’t fun doing the ESPN interview at that point,” Badgers coach Yvette Healy said. “But there was a lot of game still left.”
Things turned quickly for the Badgers and from an unexpected, but expected source.
Sporting a .100 batting average and no home runs during the the regular season, Jordan Little hit a big home run off the upper left side of the Alabama scoreboard in left field. The ball would have kept traveling if the scoreboard didn’t impede it.
It cut the Oregon State lead to 3-2 and tilted the momentum to the Wisconsin dugout.
“They asked me going into the series if there’s any dark horse,” Healy said. “I said ‘Jordan (Little).’
She’s been coming on. Obviously her batting average isn’t there, but we aren’t a team that focuses on batting averages. Just quality at bats.”
Little went 1-for-3 in the game, driving in three of the nine Wisconsin runs. She also walked and scored three runs.
“I don’t know if I ever hit a ball that far,” Little said. “There’s so much more than batting average. I look at productive, quality at bats and learn from that.”
Wisconsin loaded the bases and tied the game at three in the top of the seventh inning, forcing extra innings.
In the eighth inning, the Badgers offense came fully to life, sending 10 hitters to the plate in a six-run explosion. Wisconsin took the lead for the first time in extra innings.
“I think it helps when when we got people like Jordan, Kelly Welsch and Gabby Scherle down there, just rolling the lineup over and doing their job,” senior Kelsey Jenkins said. “Them putting pressure on that defense and chipping away makes it harder to come around and face the top of the lineup.”
Wisconsin loaded the bases with no outs in the eighth inning. An error, a fielder’s choice and a sacrifice fly scored three runs to put the Badgers up 6-3. Two hitters later, a bases-clearing double by Taylor Johnson extended the lead to 9-3 and effectively put the game out of reach.
Scoring the extra insurance runs was really important to Healy, as she wanted to make sure the team had as much cushion as possible.
“They had the heart of their lineup coming up,” she said. “Any time you go against the 3-4-5 coming up. They were putting good bat on the ball, especially out of the three spot. We knew they had some good hitters coming up, so it felt good to put some runs across.”
Seven Badgers’ hitters had a hit and nine different reached base at least once in the game.
Kaitlyn Menz pitched five scoreless innings out of the bullpen to keep the Badgers in the game. She allowed just three hits, two walks and struck out two hitters.
“We started the game off hot, we played with great energy,” Oregon State softball coach Laura Berg said. “They brought in that second pitcher and I don’t think we did a good job of making adjustments off that kid. You can’t expect to have five free bags in the last two innings and expect to win. But overall I’m proud of them. I’ll go to war with them any day.”
Alabama, the host and the No. 12 seed in the NCAA tournament, defeated Middle Tennessee 8-0 late Friday night.
The Badgers will take on the Crimson Tide on Saturday at 1:30 p.m in the winner’s bracket. Oregon State and Middle Tennessee will face off at 4 p.m. Saturday in the elimination game.