On the strength of a late clutch hit, a historic pitching performance and some early offense, Northwestern softball (25-25, 15-8 B1G) swept a three-game series with Purdue (27-27, 8-15 B1G) in West Lafayette over the weekend. The wins ensured that Northwestern would finish in third place in the Big Ten Conference, giving them a first-round bye in next week’s Big Ten Tournament.
The first game of the series on Friday afternoon was a real pitcher’s duel. Kristen Wood started the match for Northwestern and lasted three innings, allowing three hits while walking and striking out one. Then Amy Letourneau entered and pitched four shutout innings, allowing just one hit while striking out five. Boilermaker ace Lilly Fecho matched Wood and Letourneau inning for inning ... until the seventh. There, senior Andrea Filler took a 3-2 Fecho pitch and smacked it into center field for a single, scoring Sabrina Rabin and Morgan Nelson, and giving the ‘Cats a 2-0 lead. Letourneau closed the door in the bottom of the frame, and Northwestern walked away with a 2-0 win. Letourneau picked up her 12th win of the season, while Rabin reached base three times. Fecho was excellent despite the loss, allowing six hits over seven full innings while striking out nine.
It took a while for the offenses to get going Saturday, too. In fact, one team’s offense never got going. Three total Wildcats reached base in the first six innings off of Gina Snyder. The fourth Northwestern hit was a Filler home run to center in the seventh; the senior’s 16th dinger of the season gave the ‘Cats a 1-0 lead. And that would be all they would need. Wood started the game again and went three full, allowing just one walk before giving way to Kenzie Ellis in the fourth. The freshman went two full innings, hit a batter, but didn’t allow any other runners. Finally, Letourneau came in to start the sixth and walked one and struck out three. No Purdue batter crossed home plate. No Purdue batter reached first base by putting the ball in play: Wood, Ellis, and Letourneau had combined for a no-hitter, the first goose-egg Northwestern has put up since Wood started and completed one last year. It was the 50th no-hitter in school history, and the first that required multiple pitchers since 1994.
A few more hits were recorded in Sunday’s series finale. After failing to score until the seventh on both previous nights, the Wildcats wasted no time Sunday, loading the bases and bringing one run home on a groundout by Sammy Nettling. The ‘Cats struck again in the third when catcher Kaylah Hampton missed her mark trying to catch a runner stealing, allowing Nelson to cross the plate. The lead was increased to three when Letourneau scored Filler on a groundout later in the frame. Ellis started the match for the ‘Cats and was working on a shutout until Purdue’s Sydney Pencek scored on a passed ball in the fifth, resulting in an unearned run for the freshman. It was the first, and only, run of the series for the Boilermakers. Ellis gave way to Letourneau, who, as usual, slammed the door, allowing just one hit in 2.1 innings of relief work. Ellis picked up her seventh win, while Letourneau’s efforts earned her her fourth save of the season.
It wasn’t long ago that Northwestern’s chances of making the NCAA Tournament looked bleak at best. Now, thanks a 15-5 record over their final 20 contests, the No. 3-seed Wildcats have clinched third place in the conference, garnering themselves a bye in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament. On Friday at 11 a.m. Central Time, they’ll take on the winner of No. 6-seed Ohio State and No. 11-seed Rutgers. And with their season record siting evenly at 25-25, the goal Friday is strikingly clear: win, and guarantee your eligibility for an NCAA Tournament selection. Lose, and guarantee that you will be watching the NCAA Tournament at home.