Madi Unzicker’s grand slam helps Nebraska softball right ship before road trip

LINCOLN — A big fourth inning Tuesday helped Nebraska get set for its first Big Ten road trip of the season.

A solo home run by Bri Cassidy and a grand slam by Madi Unzicker in the six-run fourth powered the Huskers to a 9-3 softball victory over South Dakota.

The win moved Nebraska’s record to 24-10, matching the Huskers’ win total from the 2017 season with four days remaining in March.

Kaylan Jablonski pitched the final five innings and recorded a career-high nine strikeouts, giving up just one run. The Huskers’ final four outs all came via Jablonski strikeouts.

Jablonski now leads all Division I pitchers with 17 victories after coming in for starter Regan Mergele in the top of the third inning. The senior from Omaha Skutt said her strikeout career high and nation-leading win total were news to her.

“Really,” she said. “I had no idea. We were just focusing on getting ahead of batters and making sure that we’re throwing good 0-2 pitches. Coach (Lori) Sippel and Bri and I got in a really good rhythm.”

 The Huskers play their next seven games on the road,  so coach Rhonda Revelle said a win was  important  after the team lost Sunday’s series finale with Michigan State 9-1 in five innings.

A practice session earlier in the day helped calm the defense after it committed seven errors in the first two games against the Spartans.

“I knew that our defense felt a little rocked from having a weekend like that,” Revelle said. “We did a lot of ground balls and had a lot of defenders say they appreciated that.”

The Bowlin Stadium turnout of 473 saw the Coyotes keep things close  for the first three innings.

Nebraska batters worked four walks out of Coyotes starter Alexis Devers to score one run in the bottom of the first inning. The last of those walks earned left fielder Gina Metzler an RBI and brought home Alyvia Simmons for a 1-0 Nebraska lead.

South Dakota bounced back and grabbed the lead in the top of the second inning, scoring twice and chasing Mergele from the game. The big hits were RBI doubles to right-center by Lauren Eamiguel and former Millard South standout Camille Fowler.

The Huskers regained the lead in the bottom of the second. Lexey Kneib led off with a walk, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Cassidy and then went to third on a single to shortstop by Simmons. Laura Barrow then drove in Kneib with a double through the left side.

Tristen Edwards followed with a sacrifice fly to short right field. Simmons didn’t hesitate and took off for home plate, easily beating the throw and putting the Huskers ahead 3-2.

Coyotes first baseman Jamie Holscher, a junior from Lincoln Northeast, launched a two-out home run to center field to tie the score 3-3 in the top of the fourth.

That’s when the Huskers  put together the big inning they needed to take much of the drama out of the final three innings. It all started with Cassidy’s one-out home run to left field.

Simmons followed with her second triple of the season, this one going to center field. The junior from Overland Park, Kansas, then scored on a wild pitch for her third run of the game.

A walk to Barrow and singles by Edwards and Jablonski set the table for Unzicker’s grand slam to left field  that made it 9-3.

“It just feels good to take a good swing on a pitched ball,” Unzicker said. “I haven’t been hitting the ball the way I want to, and I’ve just been really working since last weekend until now, and it paid off with that one swing.”

Nebraska heads to Chicago for a three-game Big Ten series against Northwestern that begins Friday at 3 p.m.

South Dakota (13-21)………020 100—3 4 0

At Nebraska (24-10)………..120 600—9 9 0

W: Kaylan Jablonski (17-6). L: Alexis Devers (0-7). 2B: SD, Lauren Eamiguel, Camille Fowler; N, Laura Barrow. 3B: N, Alyvia Simmons. HR: SD, Jamie Holscher; N, Bri Cassidy, Madi Unzicker. A: 473.

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