Bears Bounce Back to Best Badgers, Advance to Texas Invitational Title Game
AUSTIN, Texas – The Missouri State softball team turned the tables on Wisconsin by pounding out 11 hits and scoring in five of seven innings in a 6-2 victory over the Badgers in the two clubs’ semifinal match-up Saturday at the Time Warner Cable Texas Invitational at Red and Charline McCombs Field. With the win, the Bears (2-2) will advance to Sunday’s championship game, where they will take on No. 13 Texas at noon.
The Bears’ victory over the Badgers snapped a 15-year dry spell for Missouri State versus teams from the Big Ten Conference. MSU had dropped seven straight games to Big Ten teams dating back to a 6-2 win over Northwestern in February of 1996.
After coming up empty in several key scoring opportunities in a 9-2 loss to the Badgers in the first game of the day, the Bears used a pair of two-out rallies to establish an early 2-0 lead for starter Natalie Rose.
After UW’s Meghan McIntosh retired the first two hitters of the game, Jenna Schwark was hit by a 3-1 pitch, and Caitlin Chapin got on via an infield single to set up Missouri State’s first scoring opportunity. Unlike game one, the Bears capitalized, as Ashley Knehans drove home Schwark with a base hit to left to put MSU on the board.
It was a similar story in the third, when McIntosh once again got the first two batters before giving up a single to Chapin and walking Knehans. Lauren Eisenreich reached courtesy of a fielding error on a fielder’s choice grounder to third to load the bases, and Stevie Pierce made the freshman lefty pay by drawing a walk to force home MSU’s second run of the contest.
Rose, who fanned three of the first five Badgers she faced, appeared to be in control before the Badgers cut the lead in half in the bottom half of the third when Stephanie Peace broke up the no-hit bid with a lead-off home run to left-center field.
The Bears got that run back in the fifth, with Chapin and Knehans playing the role of catalysts once again. Chapin led-off the frame with her third hit of the ball game, and Knehans followed with another walk to set the table. After a passed ball moved both runners up a base, Eisenreich’s fielder’s choice grounder resulted in Chapin being thrown out at the plate. But Heather Duckworth came through with a key pinch-double to drive in Knehans to make it a 3-1 contest.
MSU tacked on two more runs in the sixth thanks in large part to three Badger errors. Ashley Brentz got the ball rolling with one of her five hits on the day, and Tyler Porter and Knehans came up with key RBIs to stretch the lead to four runs.
Wisconsin threatened to cut into that advantage in both the fifth and sixth innings, but each time Rose worked herself out of danger. In the fifth, Peace doubled with one out, and Massei followed with a single to right that nearly resulted in the Badgers second tally of the game. But Raeven Replogle’s throw to Hargrove at the plate cut down Peace for out number two, and Rose then got Grimm to wave and miss at a 2-2 pitch to end the inning.
The following inning, the Badgers put their first two batters on before Rose worked right through the heart of the order to squash the rally attempt.
After MSU added an insurance run in the top of the seventh, UW once again put a pair of runners on in its half of the inning. This time, Peace put the Badgers on the board with an RBI-triple to right-center.
But Rose (1-1) finished the job, getting Michelle Mueller to foul out, and Grimm to pop into a game-ending double play.
The junior right-hander gave up eight UW hits, but struck-out nine to notch her first win of the season.
Brentz, who had two hits in the ball game, finished the day 5-of-9 to lead the Bears. Chapin also enjoyed a strong second game, going 3-for-4, and Knehans reached base in all four trips to the plate. The senior first-baseman had two hits, walked twice and drove in a pair of MSU runs.
The Bears’ offensive prowess in game two came on the heels of a frustrating first game against Wisconsin in which they amassed 10 hits, but failed to come up with the big inning when they needed it.
The Badgers, who recorded 10 of their 15 game-one hits over the first three innings, did all of their damage before the Bears could record a single out in the opening frame, and sophomore right-hander Cassandra Darrah held MSU scoreless for six innings to seal the outcome.
Wisconsin scored five times in the top of the first inning of game one and cruised to a 9-2 victory. The Badgers (3-2) pounded out six hits in the first inning-five of which came against MSU's freshman starter Jourdan Esquenazi-to take control of the game early. After Whitney Massey drew a lead-off walk to kick things off, Jennifer Krueger dropped a bunt single and Shannel Blackshear lined a single to center to load the bases. Darrah then helped her own cause with a two-run double to left-center to open the scoring, and Karla Powell beat out an infield single to plate Blackshear with UW's third run of the inning. Next, Ashley Hanewich drove in two more with a double to that made it a 5-0 ball game.
Darrah (2-0) made the margin stand for UW, limiting the Bears to seven hits over six shutout innings. Missouri State had scoring chances in nearly every inning, but failed to capitalize, stranding 11 runners on base for the game. Their best opportunity came in the bottom of the sixth when they loaded the bases with two out. But Darrah shut down the rally try, fanning pinch-hitter Taylor Farley to end the threat and preserve the five-run cushion.
Savannah Wiggins pitched admirably in relief, scattering six hits while holding the Badgers scoreless over her first 6.0 innings. She retired nine straight hitters at one point and fanned four in all over her seven innings of work. Esquenazi (0-1) was tagged with the loss after allowing all five UW first-inning runs on five hits.
Wisconsin finally got to Wiggins in the top of the seventh, putting the game away with four runs on four hits, highlighted by two-run homers from Powell and Kendall Grimm.
MSU scratched out a pair of runs in its half of the seventh for its only offense of the day, getting an RBI-single by Chapin and a run-scoring grounder by Knehans.
Krueger and Grimm each went 3-for-4, and Powell drove in three runs to lead the Badgers.
In her first collegiate start for Missouri State, Brentz enjoyed a 3-for-4 day at the plate, and Eisenreich and Schwark each recorded a pair of hits to pace the Bears' offense.