It may not have turned out to be memorable in the way the University of Wisconsin softball team envisioned, but it’s doubtful that any of the Badgers will forget what could well be their season finale on Friday.
Who could forget a game with a 48-minute chopper delay?
That was the most bizarre part of a marathon Big Ten Conference quarterfinal matchup against Minnesota that included about six hours of delays before the No. 2 seed Gophers prevailed 6-0.
“Today will be a memorable day … that will be a memorable one,” UW coach Yvette Healy said.
As it turned out the game was decided early as the Gophers (37-15) pushed across two runs in the bottom of the first inning on a double, a single and two UW errors. Minnesota also had a fine pitching performance from Amber Fiser.
That was before a five-hour rain delay — the second of the inning — ground the tournament to a halt and led to UW administrators scrambling for a way to help make the Goodman Diamond field playable.
Following a suggestion from public address announcer Bonnie Oleson, UW officials contacted Baraboo-based Fly High Wisconsin to see if it could send a helicopter down to help dry out the outfield grass, which had become soggy and dangerously slippery.
It took awhile for the chopper to make it and by then the game had resumed and was in the bottom of the fourth inning. The players headed back to the indoor practice facility and the grandstand was cleared while the chopper hovered over the outfield to try to accomplish what the grounds crew was unable to do through conventional means.
“We saw there was no way to dry out the outfield grass while squeegeeing the outfield,” said senior associate athletic director Terry Gawlik, who spent a good portion of the day assisting the grounds crew with its work.
That’s when the facilities staff began calling around to see if it would be possible to bring in a helicopter, even checking in with the National Guard. When contact was made with Fly High Wisconsin, there were some insurance and logistical issues to work out.
“They couldn’t leave because they had to fly over the bluffs and the cloud cover was so low,” Gawlik said.
In addition to creating a surreal scene, the helicopter’s presence made a huge impression on Healy, along with the hardy group of fans who stuck around.
“I think it’s amazing what Wisconsin does to try to get games in,” Healy said.
“You’ve got administrators and athletic directors out there squeegeeing and calling the National Guard to get games in. I think you see how committed this university is to making softball great.”
On Friday, however, it was Minnesota that clearly was the superior team. The Gophers already were up 4-0 before the chopper delay and added single runs in the fifth and sixth innings.
Minnesota collected 10 hits off Badgers sophomore Kaitlyn Menz (11-13), who threw 138 pitches over six innings. The Gophers also benefited from two UW errors and a couple other plays that could’ve been made but weren’t.
“I thought Kaitlyn did have to grind but I didn’t think we helped her out,” Healy said.
“The Gophers are good and they get down the line but three or four of their hits were infield hits and there were a couple dropped balls in the outfield. You just can’t give them those extra outs.
“I thought they hit, but at the same time, we left some plays on the table. I thought Kait kept us in the game and she just kept battling.”
Fiser (26-9) made sure her team didn’t need much offense, as she stymied the Badgers for the third time this season. She allowed just two infield singles in her four innings before being relieved by Sydney Smith, who held the Badgers hitless over the last three innings.
“Amber Fiser is one of the best in the conference and it shows,” said UW senior second baseman Kelsey Jenkins, whose home run in the teams’ first meeting accounted for the only run the Badgers were able to score off Fiser in the three games.
“Today they were just a little better on the mound than we were.”
The defeat leaves the Badgers (28-21) hoping against hope for a berth in the NCAA tournament. The field will be announced on Sunday and UW, entering the week at No. 46 in the RPI, would appear to be on the fringe of making the field for the fourth time in six years.
“We’re hoping this is not the last memory of the season,” Healy said.“I’m not ready to say goodbye yet. There were not a lot of hugs and tears when it ended. We’re keeping our eyes focused on selection show Sunday and hoping that we’re living to play another game.”
Indiana 2, Illinois 1
First baseman Taylor Uden hit a walk-off home run, breaking a 1-1 tie with a solo shot that just cleared the left-field fence to lift the No. 3 seed Hoosiers (26-29) over the No. 6 Illini (37-18).
Indiana is scheduled to play Minnesota in the semifinals at 1 p.m. today.
Michigan vs. Michigan State, late
The game between top-seeded Michigan and No. 8 seed Michigan State started after 10 p.m. and did not end in time for this edition.
The Michigan-Michigan State winner will face the winner of the fourth quarterfinal game between No. 4 seed Northwestern and No. 12 seed Iowa, which was moved to 10:30 a.m. due to the long weather delays on Friday.