Just two days removed from a 9-1 defeat in six innings against the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, No. 24 Indiana softball returned home to Andy Mohr Field looking to bounce back. The Hoosiers did everything but bounce back, dropping all three games of a series against Nebraska Friday and Saturday.
“Well, not what I expected with this group,” head coach Shonda Stanton said after Friday’s 12-2 run rule loss. “We really wanted to bounce back after that Notre Dame game.”
Entering last week, sophomore pitcher Brianna Copeland was 14-0, but after losses in the circle against Notre Dame and twice against Nebraska, Copeland’s record stands at 15-3.
From the first pitch, Nebraska jumped on Copeland after junior infielder Billie Andrews singled to lead off the game. The Cornhuskers didn’t look back in the first, scoring three runs after a passed ball and a two-RBI double. Nebraska landed their first blow, and Stanton expected her team to respond throughout the game.
In the bottom half of the frame, the Hoosiers found themselves with the bases loaded and no outs. After senior utility player Cora Bassett singled and freshman second baseman Taryn Kern was hit by a pitch, sophomore outfielder Taylor Minnick singled to load the bases. Senior pitcher Courtney Wallace found herself in a jam and followed it up by walking in two runs but was able to get out of the inning after a flyout and a 5-6 double play.
“They got the double play to get out of the inning, and I think that was kind of the turning point for us,” Stanton said.
The Hoosiers seemed to be in a promising position, but the pair of singles were the only Indiana hits in the ballgame.
After Nebraska scored four runs in the second inning via a pair of RBI singles and a pair of RBI doubles, the game was delayed for two hours due to lightning detected in the area, which Stanton felt would favor her ballclub.
Not only did the rain delay not favor Indiana, but Nebraska also added five total runs in the fourth and fifth innings to bring the score to 12-2.
With Copeland allowing seven runs on nine hits in just 1 2/3 innings, sophomore pitcher Heather Johnson entered the circle in relief but was unable to slow down the Cornhusker’s offense, allowing five runs on six hits.
After the two hits in the first inning, the Hoosiers could not get anything going off Wallace. She hurled a five-inning complete game shutout on just 81 pitches. Wallace leads the Big Ten with 18 wins and 146 2/3 innings pitched, and Stanton felt like she got what she wanted against the Hoosiers, keeping the ball down in the zone and inducing weak groundballs.
After Friday’s 12-2 beatdown, Stanton’s message to Team 50 was simple.
“Get some rest, shower up, eat, watch a little film and come out ready to grind and battle,” Stanton said Friday. “(Saturday), I expect us to come out and execute and take our shots, and wherever the result falls, we’re surrendering the outcome.”
The two squads were originally set to play on Saturday and Sunday, but a poor forecast forced a Saturday doubleheader.
Nebraska’s offense picked up where they left off Friday, scoring four runs in the first inning off junior pitcher Macy Montgomery, including a two-run home run from junior outfielder Abbie Squier.
With one swing of the bat, Kern drove in as many runs as the Hoosiers had in Friday’s game with her two-run home run.
After a scoreless second frame, a sacrifice fly from Kern cut the deficit to just one run. Sophomore outfielder Taylor Minnick stepped to the plate after Kern and hit a deep two-run home run to center field to take the lead 5-4.
A scoreless fourth inning brought the Cornhuskers up to bat down one run, but not for long as the visitors put up a four spot with an RBI single, an RBI double and a run scored via an error by Kern.
Sophomore third baseman Brianna Copeland hoped to spark a rally with her solo home run in the sixth, but Indiana’s offense was unable to continue that comeback effort, falling to Nebraska in the first leg of the twin bill by a score of 8-6.
In the series finale, Nebraska got out to another quick start as they scored two runs in the first inning off Montgomery via an RBI double and an RBI single.
Indiana responded in the bottom half of the frame with an RBI single from sophomore first baseman Sarah Stone. After a scoreless second inning, Nebraska extended their lead to 3-1 with a solo home run from junior outfielder Brooke Andrews.
The two teams combined to score four runs in the first three innings, but the contest then became a pitcher's duel between Copeland and Wallace. That was until the seventh inning when junior infielder Sydney Gray hit a solo home run to give Nebraska an all-important insurance run and extending the lead to three.
With the Hoosiers down to their final three outs, Stone sent an RBI double to left field to cut the deficit to two. Indiana had an opportunity to tie, or possibly win the game with freshman utility player Avery Parker and Copeland each having at-bats with two runners in scoring position. Neither Parker nor Copeland were able to drive in any runs as Team 50 was defeated 4-2.
“We gotta do a better job of executing our game plan at the plate,” Stanton said after Saturday’s games. “I don’t think this weekend we did that.”
In each of the three games, Indiana’s offense was unable to do much of anything against Wallace, totaling just eight hits in large part due to chasing pitches off the plate where Wallace was able to work.
Over the three-game series, Nebraska scored 24 runs, and Stanton said their veterans throughout the lineup and in the circle were the difference between the way the two teams competed when their backs were against the wall.
“I thought we made some great plays at times but just not enough,” Stanton said. “When you don’t make enough plays against a team that can swing it, (losses) are what you’re going to see.”
The Hoosiers dropped four in a row starting with a midweek loss against the University of Notre Dame on April 12, which was followed by the three-game series against a tough opponent in Nebraska. Indiana will now have five days in between games as it travels to Piscataway, New Jersey, to take on Rutgers beginning on April 21.