After a defensive battle, it was senior pitcher Olivia Ferrell’s bat that sent Nebraska softball to the Big Ten Championship.
Tied with Ohio State 1-1 in the bottom of the seventh inning, Ferrell stepped to the plate. With one out, the winning run stood on second. Sophomore utility Kaylin Kinney had led off the inning with a double down the left-field line.
Ferrell swung at a 1-1 pitch, hitting a high fly ball to left-center field. It dropped to the grass just beyond an outstretched Buckeye glove. Kinney raced around third, easily scoring the winning run. The Huskers surrounded Kinney to celebrate the 2-1 walk-off victory.
It was not always pretty for Nebraska on Friday. Buckeye senior pitcher Lexie Handley kept the Husker offense at bay for most of the afternoon. Through the first six innings, she allowed just one run and four hits. She expressed her emotion on the mound, continuously pumping her fists after each out.
One day after pitching a complete-game victory, senior pitcher Courtney Wallace got the start for the Huskers. Wallace pitched four innings before being pulled, allowing just one run off of three hits.
The Buckeyes struggled to bring runs home all afternoon, stranding nine runners. They got off to a hot start, though, threatening to score in the top of the first. After a walk and a single, Wallace hit a batter to load the bases. Two consecutive outs ended the inning, however, and Ohio State stranded all three runners.
Ohio State got on the board first in the top of the fourth inning. After one Buckeye runner reached on a fielding error, senior outfielder Meggie Otte came to the plate with two outs. She hit a ball deep to the warning track in right-center field.
Husker senior right fielder Peyton Glatter just missed the catch, crashing into the wall as the ball hit the ground. Otte pulled into third for a triple, bringing home the first Buckeye run of the afternoon and giving them a 1-0 lead.
In the bottom of the fourth, the Huskers responded with a strong offensive inning of their own. Sophomore third baseman Sydney Gray led off with a walk on a full-count pitch. Felder followed with a single into right, and Gray advanced to third on a fielding error.
With no outs and runners at the corners, sophomore left fielder Abbie Squier came to the plate. She knocked a single over the shortstop and into left field, allowing Gray to score easily. Despite having two runners on with no outs, the Huskers failed to score again. Three straight outs ended the inning and the game remained tied 1-1.
Nebraska opted for a pitching change in the top of the fifth inning. Ferrell took Wallace’s place on the mound for the Huskers. Ferrell pitched the remaining three innings, allowing no runs on three hits.
After two scoreless innings, the game remained tied heading into the seventh. In the top of the inning, the Buckeyes put themselves in great position to take the lead. Sophomore outfielder Taylor Heckman led off with a single into left field. Freshman infielder Melina Wilkison followed with a grounder directly in front of the plate, but she beat out the throw to first.
With no outs, Ohio State had two runners on base. Ferrell earned her first strikeout before two pop outs to escape the inning. By keeping the Buckeyes off the board, Ferrell opened the door for her eventual walk-off hit in the 2-1 victory.
The Huskers will advance to face the winner of Northwestern and Michigan in the Big Ten Championship. The game will begin at 10 a.m. on Saturday, May 13, and can be watched on Big Ten Network.