"The tournament's not over," UW head coach Karen Gallagher said. "Knowing my team and how they approach things, they'll regroup and come back with a better level of focus and a different attitude."
The Badgers (31-23) will face top seeded and No. 6 ranked Oregon State (40-15), a surprise 1-0 loser to fourth seeded UW-Green Bay (27-16) in Friday's second game, at approximately 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Goodman Diamond. In order to survive to play Sunday, the Badgers would need to beat the Beavers and then win another elimination game against the loser of the DePaul/UWGB matchup.
"Tomorrow we just need to play our game," said senior shortstop Kris Zacher, a team captain. "We need to play as a team, we need to play offense and defense. And we're going to win.
"We're going to do well tomorrow. You're going to see us Sunday."
Asked if that should be considered a guarantee, Zacher answered in the affirmative.
Friday, however, the Badgers, the third seed in the Madison Regional, were thoroughly outplayed in all facets of the game by second-seeded and No. 23 ranked DePaul (41-18):
- Wisconsin's high-octane offense sputtered and stalled, producing just two hits as the Blue Demon tandem of Tracie Adix and Megan Huitink combined to shut out UW for the first time since a 6-0 loss to Michigan State April 16.
- The Badgers' defense was credited with three errors, which led to four unearned runs.
- DePaul had nine different players register one hit each, chasing UW sophomore starting pitcher Eden Brock (20-10) after 4 2/3 innings.
Clearly the biggest hit of the game, though, belonged to DePaul senior first-baseman Saskia Roberson, who battled Brock through six pitches before slugging a 2-2 offering well over the center field fence to give DePaul a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first.
"People have been pitching around her a ton," said DePaul coach Eugene Lenti, referring to the 10 times Roberson had been walked in the previous six games. "We're just glad to see somebody throw the ball to her."
Brock very nearly got out of the inning without having to face Roberson, who is hitting .351 with 14 home runs this season. But UW freshman first baseman Katie Hnatyk could not secure classmate Joey Daniels' throw from third, allowing DePaul second baseman Sandy Vojik to reach base with two outs.
Facing Roberson, Brock fell behind in the count 2-0 before working it even. But Roberson fouled off two pitches to the third base side before Brock made one mistake, hanging a pitch up in the strike zone. Roberson drilled it.
"At first I was struggling a little bit with the timing," Roberson said. "(Brock) has a bit of a drop ball…. so I just had to stand in the front of the box and [hit] it before it dropped."
"When you face good hitters you just have to try to keep it low and away and if you mess up then they can get a piece of it," Brock said.
It looked like the Badgers' bats would be in rhythm when Zacher drove Adix's first pitch of the game deep into the right-centerfield gap. But UW stranded the leadoff double. Adix struck out sophomore center fielder Sam Polito looking, then coerced Hnatyk into a ground out to Roberson at first, which advanced Zacher to third. Adix then struck out catcher Boo Gillette looking to end the threat.
Adix was on cruise control from there, allowing just one hit and three base runners in 4 2/3 innings after Zacher's double.
"It's going to be irritating for me to give up a leadoff double," Adix said. "I just kind of walked back to the mound, took a deep breath and realized what I had to do. Just kind of moved it out a little bit more on the plate and just relaxed a little bit more."
Huitink, a left-handed off-speed pitcher, replaced Adix, a right hander with good velocity, after the starter had made her way through the Badgers' lineup twice. The change of pace proved baffling for UW, which was having a hard enough time putting the ball in play against Adix.
"I think we were just starting to get in our heads a little bit and we were pressing too much," Zacher said.
UW went down in order in the second and fourth versus Adix and in the sixth to Huitink.
"I thought our hitters didn't make adjustments like they should have, like they've done in the past," Gallagher said. "I give credit to DePaul's pitching staff. They did a great job. But I know that our kids are a better hitting team than they proved tonight."
Badger right fielder Natalie Phillips reached second on an error to open the third, but Adix fielded second baseman Athena Vasquez's grounder, spun, and caught Phillips in no man's land between second and third for the first out of the inning. After Zacher flied out, Vasquez reached second on a passed ball. But Polito grounded out to Adix to close the inning.
The Badgers' best chance to dent the scoreboard came in the fifth inning, when left fielder Anastasia Miller, who had ended DePaul's at-bat in the fourth when she threw out pinch runner Kate Hanson at the plate, led off with a single. After a pair of strikeouts, the sixth and seventh of the evening for Adix, Vasquez was hit by a pitch, putting runners on first and second. By design, Huitink then entered.
"Our goal was to make sure that Tracie didn't see the top of the lineup a third time," Lenti said. "Whenever the leadoff hitter got up the third time Megan was coming in and she knew that."
A Huitink balk gave UW runners on second and third, but she coerced Zacher into a groundout to Roberson for the inning's final out.
Aside from a seventh inning walk, Huitink was unscathed in 2 1/3 innings.
The same could not be said for Brock and the Badgers' defense, which yielded two more runs in both the third and the fifth.
"I thought Eden pitched a good game but ultimately you have to play good defense behind your pitching staff," Gallagher said.
Brock will get the starter's nod again Saturday.
"She's been our ace in the hole all year and she's done a great job for us," Gallagher said.