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Softball completes two improbable comeback wins in weekend sweep of Rutgers

You do NOT want to face these Wildcats right now.

The Northwestern softball team has a lucky number.

That number is seven.

The Wildcats (29-13, 11-5 B1G) roared back from seventh-inning deficits in consecutive games against Rutgers over the weekend, scoring seven runs in the final frame twice to sweep the series and push their winning streak to —you guessed it— seven.

Sunday’s comeback in Piscataway was nothing short of unbelievable. Pitchers Morgan Newport and Kenna Wilkey struggled with command, walking nine batters as Rutgers took a 7-1 lead into the top of the seventh inning. Sammy Nettling led off the inning for the ‘Cats with her third home run of the year. Then Marissa Panko and Lily Novak both went deep for the first times in their respective careers, giving the Wildcats back-to-back-to-back home runs and shaving the Scarlet Knights’ lead to three.

Things looked bleak when the next two Northwestern batters were retired. Yet this Northwestern softball team, which now has four Big Ten seventh-inning comebacks to its credit, is never out of a game. Freshman Mac Dunlap crushed her first career home run to trim the deficit to two and give Northwestern four solo home runs in the inning. Two walks and a single brought Nettling to the plate again, and the senior came through.

Nettling finished the day 3-for-5 with four RBI. Wilkey earned her 15th win of the season with a scoreless seventh inning.

Wilkey was excellent in relief on Saturday as well, recording all 21 outs after starter Nicole Bond allowed the first four hitters to reach base. The Scarlet Knights pushed their lead to 5-3 in the fifth inning when Myah Moy hit a tie-breaking two-run homer. Both teams exchanged zeroes in the sixth before the Wildcats showed off their seventh inning magic.

A walk, a hit by pitch, and a steal set up an RBI groundout by Nettling to bring the deficit to one, before Panko tied the game with an RBI single. From there, it was a fielder’s choice by Wilkey that put the ‘Cats on top ahead of a Rachel Lewis bases-clearing double that pushed the Northwestern advantage to 10-5. Wilkey made the lead stand in the seventh to clinch the series for Northwestern.

Despite the series sweep, Northwestern did not move up in the Big Ten standings, because each of the top six teams in the conference are riding winning streaks of three games or better. Nonetheless, Northwestern’s offense has been outstanding in conference play. The Wildcats are first in the conference in hits (147), runs (133), home runs (28) and walks (82). Freshman Rachel Lewis has homered nine times in 16 conference games, while Morgan Nelson has gone deep eight times herself.

Northwestern welcomes Loyola-Chicago to Evanston Wednesday to kick off a four-game homestand that closes with a weekend series against Iowa.