On Wednesday, Northwestern softball put up eight runs in an 8-0 run-rule victory over DePaul – but the Wildcats’ killer week was just getting started.
Northwestern played three games against Purdue over the weekend, and the Wildcats won ‘em all, outscoring the Boilermakers 24-7 in a series that featured one win by run-rule, one by shutout and one that came down to the wire. With the trio of wins, Northwestern’s record improves to 20-23 (6-9 B1G) while Purdue falls to 17-32 (6-11 B1G). The top 12 teams in the conference qualify for the Big Ten Tournament, and the series win vaults Northwestern over Purdue into 11th place in the league.
While Northwestern dominated the weekend overall, Purdue actually scored first in two of the three games. The Boilermakers kicked things off Friday with a pair of unearned runs in the first and an earned run in the third thanks to a solo home run from Lexi Valone off NU starter Nicole Bond. Then, the Northwestern offense came alive: the ‘Cats scored twice in the third to cut the deficit to 3-2 before blowing things open in the fifth. Alcy Bush kicked things off with a two-run blast to give NU a 4-3 lead.
Later in the frame, the ‘Cats pulled off the double steal, moving Marissa Panko to third and allowing Krista Williams to cross the plate. Panko came home as Morgan Nelson reached on an error, and the Wildcats went from down one to up three. Purdue tacked on another unearned run in the top of the sixth, but the Wildcats did not slow down. They scored six more times in the bottom of the frame, buoyed by a two-RBI triple by Williams. When Nelson singled home Panko, the eight-run rule went into effect, the Wildcats walked away with a 12-4 comeback win.
Northwestern needed no comeback on Saturday. The Wildcats scored an unearned run in the first, but things got going in the middle innings. Sammy Nettling scored Kenzie Ellis with a double in the fourth, and then scored herself when Sabrina Rabin tripled. Northwestern added two more in the fifth on an RBI double by Nelson and a bases-loaded walk from Bush and one more in the sixth.
However, the real story was Kaley Winegarner. Fresh off a three-hit shutout over DePaul in the midweek, Winegarner decided two is better than one, dominating Purdue over seven innings in another three-hit shutout with eight strikeouts. She was truly troubled only once, when Purdue loaded the bases in the third – but Winegarner locked it down and led the Wildcats to a 6-0 win. All this after she picked up a save in relief of Bond in Friday’s win. Talk about a killer week.
Sunday’s contest was quite a bit closer. Purdue once again got the party started with two runs in the first, but the resilient Wildcats bounced back with three of their own in the bottom half, helped by a two-run single from Brooke Marquez.
Northwestern scored one run in the second on a wild pitch and another in the third on an Ellis groundout, but Purdue pulled one back on a solo homer from Lexi Huffman in the fifth. With the Wildcats’ lead at just 5-3 in the sixth, in stepped Sabrina Rabin. The leadoff hitter was hitless in her three previous at-bats, but she laid down a perfect bunt and bolted down the line to reach first. With Williams in the box next, Rabin stole second and took third when the catcher’s throw sailed into center field. Then the centerfielder tried to get Rabin at third, but the throw bounced into the Purdue dugout, allowing Rabin to waltz the rest of the way, sealing a 6-3 Northwestern win.
Sunday was Senior Day, but it was a freshman that put Northwestern in a position to win. Coach Kate Drohan pulled starting pitcher Kenzie Ellis after she recorded only two outs, and replaced her with Morgan Newport. The freshman was fabulous, allowing just five hits and a walk, with four strikeouts, in 6.1 innings of work. She made only one real mistake, and Huffman punished her with a deep fly, but Newport was otherwise terrific to lead the Wildcats to the series sweep.
Teams must hold at least a .500 record to be eligible for the NCAA Tournament. Northwestern went just 26-26 last year, but made the postseason on virtue of a ridiculously strong strength of schedule. The schedule is tough again this year, but the Wildcats have just nine games remaining, plus the Big Ten Tournament, to get their 20-23 record up enough to qualify. Their next chance to pick up a win will be Tuesday when they host Notre Dame at 4 p.m.