It wasn’t a picture-perfect ending to the regular season, but the result didn’t matter for the IU softball team. Despite the opportunity to finish the season with a .500 overall and undefeated record on the road in conference play, Rutgers had a different view on how IU's final regular season weekend would turn out.
The Scarlet Knights shutout the Hoosiers in game one before coming from behind to rally and earn the series win with a victory in game two. However, IU defeated Rutgers in the final game of the series Saturday afternoon to make sure it didn’t come away empty-handed on the weekend.
“It was important to have the bounce back win,” IU Coach Shonda Stanton said. “All season long, it’s not going to be easy and the Big Ten Tournament isn’t going to be easy, either. I’m glad that we pushed through some adversity on the field this weekend.”
Going into the weekend, Rutgers had a 15-game losing streak and had won two conference games the entire season. The Scarlet Knights set the tone in game one, blanking the Hoosiers 3-0. It was the second game in a row in which IU was shutout.
Only four Hoosiers managed to record a hit in the loss and it wasn’t until the sixth inning that Rutgers pulled away. The Scarlet Knights recorded a pair of home runs to take the 3-0 lead that proved to be enough to pick up the victory.
The struggles continued for IU at the plate in the second game of the Friday doubleheader.
IU took an early 2-0 lead in the top of the third inning after a double from sophomore outfielder Gabbi Jenkins and a sacrifice fly from sophomore infielder Katie Lacefield. Then, Rutgers stormed back in the bottom of the fifth, scoring four runs to take a 4-2 lead. Freshman outfielder Taylor Lambert tied the game for IU in the top of the seventh with a two-run home run to left center.
In the bottom of the seventh, Rutgers ended the game away with a walk-off single to right center field to bring in the scoring run to win 5-4.
“I think we’re going to take away that we can’t take any game lightly,” freshman catcher Maddie Westmoreland said. “We have to attack every pitch, every inning, every at-bat. We need to take care of the ball and focus on winning every inning.”
The final game of the series was similar to game two, but this time IU finished strong.
Taking a 3-0 lead entering the bottom of the sixth, Rutgers tied the game by stringing together hits and benefiting from errors committed by IU. However, the Hoosiers responded in the top of the seventh after senior infielder Taylor Uden brought in the game-deciding run with a sacrifice fly to center field. After dropping the first two games, IU responded with the 4-3 victory to round out the weekend.
Despite losing the series, the Hoosiers did enough to accomplish their main goal of securing the No. 3 seed in the Big Ten Tournament and a first-round bye.
“You can’t worry about the opponents, who you lost to or who you’ve beat,” Stanton said. “We got the job done, we got 17 wins in conference play and now are looking at a bye.”