Northwestern (25-7, 6-0 B1G) swept Big Ten rival Iowa (15-15, 1-5 B1G) this weekend after DePaul broke the Wildcats’ five-game winning streak Wednesday.
Two stellar outings from pitcher Danielle Williams and a solid start from Kaley Winegarner propelled the ‘Cats to 5-0, 6-2 and 6-0 wins in Iowa City, allowing the ‘Cats to maintain their undefeated conference record and improve to 25-7 overall, the team’s best start since 2007 (per NUSports.com).
Game one between Northwestern and Iowa was a tight one, with both Williams and Hawkeye pitcher Allison Doocy dueling until the seventh inning. Both pitchers gave up zero earned runs entering the final frame with the only run scored by Northwestern’s Emma Bartz off of an error.
The Wildcat bats took over when they needed them most. They used a combination of hits and Iowa errors to explode for four insurance runs. Williams would take care of the rest, securing her fourth one-hitter and seventh shutout of the season with a season-high 15 (!) strikeouts.
Maeve Nelson paced the ‘Cats with two hits and two RBI, and Lily Novak added two base knocks and an RBI as well.
Rachel Lewis got the party started in game two. For the third time in the last seven games she smacked a lead-off dinger, as the Wildcats put up a four spot in the first inning. It was another show of first-inning dominance for Northwestern, which has outscored its opponents 42-10 in the opening frame this season. The Wildcats are now 15-1 in games in which it scores in the first inning, per NUSports.com.
Winegarner, making just her fourth start of the season, tossed 4.1 innings of one-run ball. Kenna Wilkey gave up a run in relief but finished the job. The Wildcats added two insurance runs in the seventh — another inning they have dominated — for a comfortable win.
Maeve Nelson stayed hot, connecting on two hits and scoring two runs. First-year Nikki Cuchran led Northwestern with three hits and two RBI.
The Wildcats finished strong on Sunday to complete the series sweep with Williams, now 17-3, in the circle once again. Against top-tier competition the freshman has been hittable and can be figured out, but against anyone else she has been nearly untouchable. She threw another complete game shutout (her eighth this season), allowing two hits.
It was the weekend of Maeve Nelson, who gave the Wildcats two insurance runs on a home run in the seventh inning to put the game out of reach. Kenna Wilkey provided everything else, driving in a season-high four RBI.
This series was an important one for Northwestern to win, even if Iowa hasn’t gotten off to a great start this year. Every conference game will matter as the ‘Cats jockey for a top-tier spot in the Big Ten standings and fight for a position in the top 25 poll. It was also a positive rebound after a mid-week loss to a pesky DePaul (23-9) team.
Northwestern will return home to host Loyola (16-11) on Wednesday.