On the strength of four total RBI from freshman Morgan Nelson and two solid pitching performances from senior Amy Letourneau, Northwestern softball (22-24, 12-8 B1G) marched out of Madison this past weekend with a series win over the Wisconsin Badgers (27-21-1, 10-9-1 B1G).
In the first of a three-game set on Friday evening, Northwestern wasted no time getting its offense going, as Letourneau drove in center fielder Sabrina Rabin with a single in the first inning. The ‘Cats kept it going in the second, as well, as Nelson singled in two to expand the lead to 3-0. And there was more where that came from. In the third inning, designated player Sammy Nettling doubled in a run, then scored herself on a Brooke Marquez single. Wisconsin, which only managed one hit through the first five innings, finally came alive in the final two: leadoff hitter Kelsey Jenkins got the Badgers on the board with a solo shot in the sixth, before driving in another in the seventh. Atoning for her errors, Van Zeeland drove in a third Badger run, but Letourneau escaped, striking out the final batter to preserve a 5-3 win. Letourneau struck out 11 batters over seven innings, matching her season high, while also tallying a team-high three hits.
Rain split Saturday’s game in half, but the Badgers were able to prevail despite the delay. This time it was Wisconsin who got started early: in the first inning, the Badgers put runners on second and third, and brought them both home when catcher Melanie Cross’ squeeze bunt forced Nelson to make an errant throw. The game was postponed after two innings, but Wisconsin would add to its lead when it resumed when Jenkins homered on the first pitch she saw in the third inning to make it 3-0 Badgers. The ‘Cats cut into the lead in the fifth when Nelson doubled in Rabin, but that would be the Wildcats’ only run. In the sixth, the Badgers brought another on home on a fielder’s choice grounder, icing the 4-1 win for the home team. Taylor-Paige Stewart picked up the win for Wisconsin, pitching all five Sunday innings while allowing just one unearned run with six strikeouts. Northwestern’s Kristen Wood was stuck with the loss, though only one of the runs she allowed was earned.
Sunday’s rubber game was a tight one throughout. This time, Northwestern struck first, tallying twice in the first frame. Nelson got on with a single and then stole second before Andrea Filler brought her home with a single. Nettling then returned the favor with a RBI single of her own, helping the ‘Cats to a 2-0 lead. But Wisconsin didn’t fold. Instead, the Badgers brought home three of their own in the second, tying the game on a two-RBI single before Jenkins struck again, this time with an RBI single that gave the Badgers a 3-2 lead. But the lead didn’t last long. After the second inning three-spot, Letourneau locked it down in the circle, and launched a solo homer, her 14th fence-clearer of the year, in the fourth to tie the score at three. Then with two gone in the fifth, Rabin singled and stole second, and Nelson brought her home with a single to give Northwestern a 4-3 lead they wouldn’t relinquish. The freshman now has at least one RBI in eight straight games. Letourneau improved her record to 11-9 with the complete-game win.
It was an important series win for the Wildcats who are presently on the outside of the NCAA Tournament picture with a sub-.500 record. They’ll have a chance to improve on that before the Big Ten Tournament, however, with an away date with DePaul on Wednesday before closing the regular season with a three game series at Purdue.