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Northwestern softball takes three of four at ACC/Big Ten Challenge behind Williams, Novak

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After another successful weekend, the Wildcats are off to their best start in 11 years.

Call it revenge, one year in the making.

Twelve months ago, Northwestern suffered a stunning loss at the hands of Louisville at the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Trailing by three runs, Louisville was down to their final strike before an error and a three-run homer keyed a four-run seventh inning and an eventual extra-innings victory for the Cardinals. NU’s frustrating loss set the tone for a dismal 1-3 weekend in Raleigh.

One year later, the Wildcats one-upped the Cardinals, scoring five runs in the top of the seventh inning to tie the game, before a Maeve Nelson home run — the first of the freshman’s career — in the ninth inning won the game for NU. The Wildcats went on to beat Louisville again and split two games with host North Carolina, finishing the weekend 3-1. Now at 7-2, NU is off to its best start in 11 years.

Reigning Big Ten Pitcher of the Week Danielle Williams earned the win in NU’s thrilling comeback, pitching three scoreless innings in relief. She also added two hits and a run.

The Pleasanton, Calif. native started the second half of the Friday double-header against North Carolina. She finished the game, too, allowing only two earned runs and striking out eight for her third complete game in as many starts.

NU’s offense gave Williams an early boost thanks to a first-inning Morgan Nelson home run, and a two-run blast from Morgan Newport. Freshman Jordyn Rudd — who leads the team with 14 RBIs — added a three-run double in the seventh inning to blow the game open as NU won 9-3.

A rain delay pushed back first pitch for NU’s Saturday matchup with the Tar Heels by four hours. Sloppy defensive play allowed three unearned runs to cross the plate for North Carolina, and the Wildcats could muster only four hits, falling 5-0 to the Tar Heels.

On Sunday, Williams got the ball yet again as the Wildcats looked for their third 2019 victory over Louisville. She ran into some early trouble, surrendering an unearned run in the first inning, but rebounded to shut out Louisville for the next five frames. Meanwhile, she helped her own cause with a two-run double in the second inning to give NU a lead it would not relinquish. Freshman Nikki Cuchran — who went 5-for-13 with four RBIs on the weekend — added an RBI double and senior Lily Novak capped off the scoring with a RBI single. Novak earned tournament MVP honors after a 7-for-13 weekend.

Williams took it from there, closing out the Cardinals with another complete game. She was the winning pitcher in each of NU’s three weekend victories, allowing only three earned runs in 17 innings pitcher (1.24 ERA). On the season, Williams is 6-0 with a 0.81 ERA, four complete games, two shutouts, and 41 strikeouts in 34.2 innings.

The Wildcats return to the diamond on Friday at the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic in Cathedral City, Calif. They’ll face fifth-ranked Washington, as well as Duke, Utah, Long Beach State, and BYU.