Just a week ago, it felt like the sky was falling for Indiana softball after getting swept by Nebraska at home, as its losing streak in the Big Ten had reached five games.
Head coach Shonda Stanton wanted to see how the team would respond with a whole week off following the results against the Cornhuskers. Her team responded positively, sweeping Rutgers on the road to put themselves in prime position to receive a bye in the Big Ten Tournament.
The Hoosiers won 7-3, 9-0, and 5-4 to extend the win streak over the Scarlet Knights to nine. Indiana has not lost to Rutgers since April 2019.
“We played clean D,” were the first words Stanton said when asked what she thought led to the successful weekend.
After committing five errors in the field last weekend against Nebraska, Team 50 cleaned it up this weekend in New Jersey, only making one error in the 19 innings it played.
Along with strong defense, the common theme throughout the weekend was Indiana leading. Indiana led in 16 innings, including the entirety of Friday and Saturday’s matchups.
Indiana scored first in all three games, as they got out to a 6-1 lead in Friday’s contest, eventually winning 7-3 despite only tallying one more hit than the Scarlet Knights. Team 50 scored two in the second off the bat of sophomore utility player Sarah Stone, and added another four in the next inning. The insurance run provided in the fifth inning was the only home run in the game that came off the bat of freshman utility player Cassidy Kettleman, her first career home run.
The second game was another wire-to-wire victory for the Hoosiers, who needed only five innings to run-rule the Scarlet Knights 9-0. Again, Indiana scored four runs early, this time all in the first, while adding three in the third and another two in the fourth, blanking Rutgers for its sixth shutout win of the season. Sophomore pitcher Heather Johnson pitched a complete game, allowing only three hits to the 18 batters she faced.
Indiana completed its fourth sweep of a conference opponent this year on Sunday with a nail-biting 5-4 win. Despite scoring again in the first inning and leading 3-0 after two and a half innings, Team 50 found itself behind Rutgers after giving up four runs in the bottom of the third.
However, the team did not fold under pressure, scoring single runs in the fifth and sixth to come from behind and win by one run. Stone had a run-scoring groundout and freshman infielder Taryn Kern was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to give the Hoosiers a 5-4 lead they would not relinquish. Johnson pitched over four stellar shutout innings in game three out of the bullpen to earn her 12th win of the season.
Stone had a total of eight RBI on the weekend, and Johnson threw 9.1 innings of scoreless ball to lead Indiana to win number 34 on the season, as the Hoosiers sit at 34-15 overall and 12-5 in Big Ten play. Indiana only won 10 conference games in the entirety of last season.
“We’re making a push, and we’re playing well right now,” Stanton said. “Gotta love it.”
Team 50 currently sits tied for second with Nebraska in the conference standings, three games behind Northwestern for the top spot, and three games ahead of Minnesota, Ohio State and Michigan. The top four teams receive a bye to the quarterfinals of the Big Ten Tournament, which takes place May 10-13 in Champaign, Illinois.
Indiana has not ended a season in the top four of the Big Ten since 2018, when the Hoosiers finished 17-6 in conference play.