Posted-May 9, 2014 10:47 am
EVANSTON, Ill. -- Faced with the challenge of defending its 2013 Big Ten Tournament title, Wisconsin dug itself an early hole in its Big Ten quarterfinal game at Sharon J. Drysdale Field on Friday.
The Badgers filled in that hole, however, with a five-run third inning rally to earn its second comeback victory over Northwestern this season by downing the homestanding Wildcats, 5-4.
A towering three-run home run by Stephanie Peace put the Badgers on top for good, and relief pitcher Cassandra Darrah did the rest to advance the Badgers to Saturday’s semifinal.
“Northwestern is a great ball club and we knew we would have a tough time putting runs together in a lot of innings, so we just said, ‘When the pendulum swings our way we have to capitalize on it.,’” UW head coach Yvette Healy said. “Kudos to the players that they did because Northwestern really held us down and played a great game.”
The Badgers will meet top-seeded Michigan. The winner advances to the championship game, which follows immediately.
NU (33-16) got on the board early Friday, using a leadoff double, reach on error and successful first-and-third steal play in the opening inning to plate the game’s first run.
The Wildcats went on to load the bases in the top of the first, but Taylor-Paige Stewart struck out Andrea Filler swinging to prevent any further damage. It was indicative of a trend, as the Cats stranded 10 runners on base for the game.
Despite numerous well-hit groundballs and a deep fly ball, the Badgers (34-17) struggled to get runners on, over and across after two innings.
Luckily for UW, though, Stewart and relief pitcher Cassandra Darrah battled through difficult spots, keeping the game in grasp until the Badgers’ bats started clicking.
That came in the third inning when Katie Christner reached on a walk with one out and quickly swiped second, followed by a bunt single by the speedy Maria Van Abel, who also stole second to give UW a pair of runners in scoring position.
Mary Massei then reached on a throwing error by Northwestern shortstop Anna Edwards to plate Christner and get the Badgers on the board.
Another stolen base set up a second-and-third situation for Wisconsin RBI leader Michelle Mueller, who delivered with a two-run double.
Peace got in on the action, as she blasted her ninth long ball of season -- an absolute no-doubter over the left field fence -- to cap the five-run inning for UW.
“It’s always exciting when you have momentum going in front of you,” Peace said. “That home run obviously isn’t a two-run home run if Michelle isn’t on base. We don’t have the big inning if kids in front of us don’t get on. We got a momentum and we just try to capitalize on that.”
And it’s no surprise the Badgers erupted for five in the third -- other than the first frame (51) they have scored more runs in their third at bat (43) than any other this season.
After putting two runners on with one out in the top of the third, Northwestern drew a Wisconsin pitching change, which forced Darrah into a tough runners-on-first-and-second jam.
The senior pegged Brianna LeBeau with the first pitched she threw and allowed a subsequent infield single to Amanda Filler, which scored Marisa Bast from third.
An RBI groundout brought home another run for NU in the inning to set up Wisconsin’s rally.
The Wildcats put another run on the board in the fourth frame, but that is all they would get, as Darrah picked up her 20th victory of the season.
Northwestern pressured in the seventh with the tying run on second base and one out, but Darrah drew a liner to shortstop Ashley Van Zeeland, who made the grab and tagged the runner out to end the game with a double play.
“You have to love our walk-on shortstop,” Healy said of Van Zeeland with a grin. “She’s a great Wisconsin kid. She did a nice job. She didn’t show any fear out there, so we’re really proud.
Darrah allowed four hits in four innings of work, giving up just one run and striking out two.
“Cassandra did a great job,” Peace said. “She came in when Northwestern really had momentum going, and to shut them down was big for us.
“We told her we’d play behind her as hard as we could. We stuck together.”
Wisconsin rode the backs of its seniors to complete the come-from-behind win, as they recorded two of the team’s four hits and all five of its RBI, plus a stolen base and three runs.
The game marked the Badgers’ second comeback victory against NU this season. Wisconsin plated seven runs in the seventh inning on March 22 in Rosemont, Ill., to take the series finale from Northwestern, 7-5.
With the win, Wisconsin will play Michigan in a Big Ten tournament semifinal contest for the second-straight year. UW took down the Wolverines, 9-3, en route to its Big Ten tournament championship victory over Minnesota last season.
First pitch is set for 5 p.m. on BTN for a spot in the championship game at 7 p.m. against either third-seeded Minnesota or seventh-seeded Ohio State.