As the Nebraska softball team gathered its equipment following the series finale against Illinois, the phrase "Softball is fun” was being voiced around the dugout.
Sure, they’ve played the sport for most of their lives, but the reminder served the Huskers well following a recent 12-game losing streak.
After going nearly a month between wins, Nebraska defeated Illinois (22-9, 3-3 Big Ten) twice in a span of nearly 24 hours to take the three-game Big Ten series at Bowlin Stadium. The clincher came off the bat of freshman outfielder Peyton Glatter, who singled in fellow freshman Courtney Wallace for a 5-4 walk-off win in the second game of a Sunday doubleheader.
Illinois won the first game of the double 11-8 in eight innings.
“People were saying it doesn’t look like your team is having any fun out there,” NU coach Rhonda Revelle said of the losing streak. “I don’t know anybody that’s losing and having fun.
“What I challenged them to do is win and see how fun that is, and let’s try to win the right way.”
Nebraska (12-19, 2-4) looked like a different softball team this weekend.
The Huskers got some quality innings from their pitchers and the bats got going. But more importantly, the Huskers threw back some punches.
Nebraska trailed in every game against the Illini, but scrapped out two wins with clutch hitting late in games, including the loss.
“I think one of the things that enabled us to do what we did in the second game was after the first inning of the first game that we were unfazed and we kept chipping away,” Revelle said. “That was one of the things that we had trouble with earlier in the season. If somebody put up a big inning on us we weren’t throwing punches back, so that’s sort of been a focus of ours.”
Glatter, for example, opened the sixth inning of the series finale with a double off the wall, which led to the Huskers eventually tying the game at 4-4.
In the seventh, the Millard South graduate fouled off multiple pitches against Illinois’ Sydney Sickels before delivering an infield single, which scored Wallace from third.
“I was determined to get her in,” said Glatter, who finished with a career-high three hits. “The last thing I was going to do was pop something up, so I was getting something on the ground.”
The Huskers also got a strong pitching performance from Wallace, who hit her spots and mixed her speeds. After giving up hits to the game’s first three batters, the Papillion-La Vista grad retired 16 of the next 17 batters before running into some trouble in the sixth.
Wallace pitched 5⅔ innings, scattered eight hits and struck out a career-best seven batters before giving way to freshman Lindsey Walljasper, who recorded the win.
Revelle said she was happy with her team’s fight all weekend. An Illinois grand slam put the Huskers in a 5-0 hole in the first inning of the first game, and the Illini extended the lead to 8-1.
But NU got back in the game behind the long ball. Senior Madi Unzicker hit a two-run shot in the fourth inning, and sophomore Olivia Ferrell hit a three-run homer to center in a four-run sixth inning. Wallace added a solo homer to center in the seventh to tie the game before Illinois cleared the bases in the eighth on a double from Bella Loya.
Nebraska didn’t get down. In fact, the first game sparked the Huskers in Game 2, Revelle said.
The Huskers, who struggled mightily at the plate for three weekends, finished with a combined 23 hits -- including a three-run homer off the scoreboard from Samantha Owen in the second game -- on Sunday. NU also scored 12 of their 16 runs in the sixth inning or later this weekend.
"If we stay disciplined and believe in ourselves that we’ll get the job done," Wallace said of her takeaway from how the team rallied this weekend. "Today, even, after the first loss, we still were like, ‘We are going to win this series no matter what.’ We have felt it. We believed it from the beginning."