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Behind sixth-inning plays and Walljasper’s pitching, Huskers snap a cold streak

March 31, 2019

California-raised Lindsey Walljasper recently experienced her first Nebraska winter.

On Saturday, the freshman pitcher got to play in her first “It’s spring in Nebraska, but not really” game as a Husker.

The winds were howling, gusting to around 37 mph, and the wind chill was in the upper 20s.

“No, not even close,” Walljasper said when asked if she’s played in weather like this prior to this season. “I never even played in wind like this, so this is obviously something new.”

But Walljasper buckled down and created some warm thoughts and feelings for herself and her Nebraska teammates at Bowlin Stadium.

Walljasper shook off giving up back-to-back second-inning homers to pitch a complete game in helping Nebraska rally for a 3-2 series-opening win against Illinois. The Huskers snapped a 12-game losing streak by scoring two runs in the sixth inning. It was the Huskers’ first win since March 1.

“It’s been a long time,” NU coach Rhonda Revelle said. “I thought we played with great energy today. I thought Lindsey Walljasper really showed who she is, and you saw a really composed, competitive warrior out there on the mound today against a good Illinois team.”

The Huskers (11-18, 1-3 Big Ten) showed Saturday that they were ready to bust a cold streak. Walljasper was strong, scattering six hits, and the offense made good contact all game. More importantly, the Huskers executed in critical moments, getting a pair of double plays and throwing out two runners at home at different points to halt some Illinois momentum, and using small ball to take a sixth-inning lead.

Freshman Courtney Wallace opened the bottom of the sixth with her second triple of the game, and senior Madi Unzicker followed with a squeeze bunt that allowed Wallace to dart home to tie the game at 2-2.

Wallace said her thinking was she was going to score after getting the triple, and “that we were going to win this game.”

Unzicker reached first on the play after the Illinois (21-8, 2-2) first baseman bobbled the ball. She later scored on a sacrifice fly from junior Lexey Kneib, who connected on a first-pitch rise ball from Illinois starter Sydney Sickels (13-4).

So what was Walljasper thinking entering the seventh with a lead?

“’Three outs, baby. We got this,’” she said. “That’s exactly what I was thinking and that’s exactly what they were thinking. We didn’t want to lose again.”

Walljasper got a strikeout, a groundout and popout to end the game. She bounced back from giving up 13 earned runs over her previous two starts.

It marked Walljasper’s second seven-inning complete game of the season. She threw 102 pitches, including 64 for strikes, and was quick to give credit to her teammates, who did a little bit of everything Saturday.

“Having our offense and defense and pitching together, it definitely shows that we have it,” said Walljasper, who improved to 5-6. “We just have to keep pushing forward and just showing that we can’t just have defense win a game, we can’t just have offense, we have to put it all together, and that’s exactly what we did today.”

NU’s Tristen Edwards, who had two hits, planted a solo shot into the teeth of the wind in the first inning, her 10th homer of the season.

Revelle said there has been a lot of work done to try to work through a long losing streak — a lot of one-on-ones, group meetings and team meetings.

“There’s been some hugs and there’s been some kicks, but I think that goes with it,” Revelle said. “The biggest thing is the ‘Q’ word is never an option.”

Now the Huskers aim to start a win streak. NU and Illinois will play two games Sunday beginning at 10 a.m. at Bowlin.

“There’s a lot of tradition in this program, you just look out there at that fence,” Revelle said, nodding to the WCWS appearances (seven), NCAA Tournament appearances (24) and All-Americans (27). “We’re not going to roll over.”

[ Photos: Husker softball snaps losing skid in series-opening win over Illinois ]