Nebraska softball got back on track with a couple of big wins, winning a series against Illinois 2-1 this weekend.
Coming into the series, the two teams seemed to be trending in different directions. The Huskers were in the midst of a 12-game losing streak, including 16 of their last 18 games. On the other hand, the Illini were 21-7 heading into the series and were receiving top-25 votes.
Nebraska trailed in all three games of the series but came back to win two. The only loss came in the second game, but Nebraska was able to mount a comeback in that one as well.
“We were unfazed, and we kept chipping away,” head coach Rhonda Revelle said. “That’s one thing we kept having trouble with earlier in the season. If someone put up a big inning on us, we weren’t throwing punches back.”
Freshman pitcher Courtney Wallace came up big for Nebraska all weekend, going 4-9 from the plate with a home run, two triples and a double. She also made a difference from the pitcher’s circle, collecting a career-high seven strikeouts in the final game.
The highlight of the series came in the final contest, as Wallace scored the game-winning run off a walk-off single from freshman outfielder Peyton Glatter.
In the first game, Nebraska snapped its 12-game losing streak and came up big late to take down the Illini 3-2 Saturday.
In the bottom of the first inning, junior infielder Tristen Edwards opened up scoring with a home run that put the Huskers up 1-0.
Illinois responded immediately in the top of the second inning, as sophomore catcher Bella Loya and senior outfielder Veronica Ruelius hit back-to-back home runs to open up the inning. Illinois got another hit in the inning, but Nebraska was able to hold the Illini off and go into the bottom of the second down 2-1.
Wallace hit a leadoff triple in the bottom of the second, but the Illini retired the next three batters to maintain their lead.
In the top of the third inning, senior outfielder Kiana Sherlund hit a triple of her own. However, she was tagged out before she could reach home on senior infielder Annie Fleming’s bunt.
Neither team scored throughout the third, fourth and fifth inning. Nebraska had a chance in the bottom of the fourth with the bases loaded but wasn’t able to take advantage as Illinois retired consecutive batters.
In the bottom of the sixth, Nebraska made its comeback. Wallace hit her second triple of the game then reached home after Illinois fumbled a bunt from senior infielder Madi Unzicker.
Wallace’s two triples tied a Nebraska single-game record.
However, the Huskers weren’t finished. Freshman outfielder Peyton Glatter came in as a pinch hitter and hit a double, advancing Unzicker to third. Junior infielder Lexey Kneib then hit a sacrifice fly in the ensuing at bat to bring Unzicker home and take a 3-2 lead.
Nebraska freshman pitcher Lindsey Walljasper retired the side in the top of the seventh to seal the win for the Huskers. Walljasper pitched all seven innings in the game, allowing six hits and striking out four batters.
Illinois bounced back with an 11-8 victory as a Nebraska rally fell short in the second game of the series and the first game of Sunday’s doubleheader.
From the opening pitch, the Illini started strong. Senior outfielder Carly Thomas hit a leadoff double to start the game and advance to third on a wild pitch. Thomas scored the first run of the game after a fielding error at first base, which resulted in Sherlund getting on base.
The errors didn’t stop there, as Edwards couldn’t control the ball at second base on a hit from Fleming that helped Sherlund advance. After Loya hit a single on the ensuing at bat to load the bases, Ruelius hit a grand slam that put the Illini up 5-0 early.
The Huskers retired the next three batters but faced a large hole halfway through the first inning. Edwards hit a single for Nebraska’s first hit of the game but was caught stealing later in the inning. The Huskers were unable to get another hit for the rest of the inning.
The second inning was calmer for Illinois, as Steiner was the only one who reached base on a leadoff walk.
Nebraska made a push in the bottom of the second, as Walljasper hit a leadoff home run to cut down the Illinois lead. However, the Illini retired the next three batters to maintain a four-run advantage.
Illinois responded in the top of the third with freshman infielder Kailee Powell hitting a deep two-run home run to extend the lead to 7-1. In the bottom of the inning, the Huskers had a chance to respond. With a runner on first and second, junior infielder Samantha Owen hit a line drive to right field. Glatter, who hit a leadoff single in the inning, attempted to bring in a run but was tagged out at home.
In the top of the fourth, Illinois took advantage of another Nebraska mistake. Once again, the Huskers committed consecutive errors to load the bases. This time, Loya hit an RBI single that gave the Illini an 8-1 lead. Nebraska retired the next two batters to end the inning.
In the bottom of the fourth, senior pitcher Emily Oestreich came in for Illinois. This proved to cost the Illini, as Oestreich allowed five runs in 2.1 innings pitched. Walljasper hit a leadoff double to start the bottom of the fourth, which Unzicker followed up with a two-run home run.
Illinois ended the inning without allowing another hit, but its lead was cut to 8-3. Both teams went scoreless in the fifth inning, and Nebraska ended the top of the sixth with a double play.
In the bottom of the sixth, Nebraska had its highest-scoring inning of the game. Illinois walked Walljasper to start the inning, and Unzicker followed up with a single. Sophomore Olivia Ferrell, who also was the starting pitcher for the Huskers in the game, brought the Huskers back within striking distance with a three-run home run. Freshman Payton Huscroft came in to pinch hit following the home run and hit a double. Sophomore Sarah Yocom came in for Huscroft as a pinch runner and scored off of an RBI double from senior Alyvia Simmons.
Illinois ended the inning after Owen grounded out to right field, but Nebraska cut the Illini lead to 8-7.
In the top of the seventh inning with one out and a runner on first base, sophomore Maddison Demers hit a pitch from Ferrell right back in her direction. Ferrell quickly reacted, catching the ball in the same position she threw it in, getting it to first base for the double play.
Walljasper struck out as the leadoff batter in the bottom of the seventh inning. Still down one run, the Huskers needed a big play to stay alive. That play came on the next at bat, as Wallace hit a home run to center field to tie the game.
However, that joy didn’t last long. The Illini retired the next two batters and got back on track to start extra innings. Walljasper came in at pitcher, replacing Ferrell, and immediately struggled. After Fleming was grazed by a pitch, Loya came up to bat with the bases loaded yet again. She delivered again for the Illini, hitting a double that resulted in three runs.
With one last chance to make a push, Glatter, Yocom and Simmons were retired in order.
The final game of the series was the most exciting, as Nebraska pulled off a 5-4 walk-off win.
Illinois started off hot once again. Wallace started at pitcher and gave up hits to the first three batters. Fleming capped off the hot start with an RBI single that put Illinois up 1-0.
After starting slow, Wallace began to heat up. She retired 15 of the next 16 batters, spanning from the first to the fifth inning. Nebraska had four hits through the first four innings, including a triple from Simmons, but could not push any runners home.
In the fifth inning, that changed. Simmons singled off of a bunt, and Edwards was intentionally walked. Owen then hit a three-run home run, giving Nebraska a 3-1 lead.
In the top of the sixth, it seemed like Wallace would continue to perform well as she struck out Thomas for her seventh strikeout of the game. Then, Illinois started to gain momentum. Fleming hit a single for her third hit of the game, which was followed up by a two-run home run from Loya.
Later in the inning, Demers hit a double which brought in another run. Walljasper then came in for Wallace, who had began to struggle again. Illinois ended the inning with a 4-3 lead.
Glatter started the bottom of the sixth inning by hitting a leadoff double. Sophomore Rylie Unzicker came in to pinch run. Simmons hit a pop-up on the next at bat, but Illinois had trouble fielding it as it got lost in the sun. The ball dropped down, allowing Unzicker to bring in the tying run and Simmons to advance to second.
After Edwards and Owen both walked, the bases were loaded for the Huskers; however, Walljasper grounded out, and the Illini survived the inning, now tied with Nebraska 4-4.
Illinois was unable to score in the top of the seventh, which gave Nebraska a shot at a walk-off win. Wallace walked to start the inning. Unzicker then delivered a sac bunt, which came dangerously close to hitting her. The ball dropped, and Illinois threw it to first, getting Unzicker out. However, the Illini left third base open and Wallace took advantage, getting there before Illinois could respond.
In the next at bat, Glatter came up again with the chance to win the game. After two strikes, Glatter delivered with an RBI single. Wallace crossed home base, resulting in a celebration from the rest of the Nebraska team.
“I was determined to get her in,” Glatter said. “Last thing I was gonna do was pop something up, so I was getting something on the ground.”
The series win was an important one for Nebraska (12-19), and it could give the Huskers momentum moving forward in the season. They won’t have to wait long, as the Huskers will take on South Dakota State Tuesday, April 2, at 5:00 p.m.