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Softball: Wildcats suffer first Big Ten loss, miss out on share of regular season conference title

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Despite winning the series opener, the Golden Gophers got the better of Northwestern on the diamond this weekend.

@NUSBcats

Northwestern softball (42-9, 21-2 B1G) entered its final regular-season weekend with high hopes but ultimately walked away empty-handed.

The Wildcats had a chance to claim the regular season Big Ten title, as they were undefeated in conference play heading into a three-game series against No. 8 Minnesota this past weekend. However, things did not turn out as planned, and No. 22 Michigan ultimately stole the title to repeat as conference champions.

Northwestern was able to start the weekend strong with a 1-0 win over the Gophers to maintain its perfect 21-0 conference record. First-year Danielle Williams took care of business yet again, as she has done all year, completing her 12th shutout of the season. Williams struck out 13 and allowed only one hit.

On the offensive end, both teams were quiet and Northwestern’s only two hits came from Morgan Newport and Nikki Cuchran. Maeve Nelson scored the only run on the day after a wild pitch in the top of the 7th allowed her to secure the win for the Wildcats.

While things were looking bright for Northwestern on Friday, the weekend took a turn for the worse during game two. The Golden Gophers handed Northwestern its first loss in 20 games and its first conference loss of the year in an 8-0 finish after five innings.

The loss could be credited to Northwestern’s inability to capitalize on opportunities on the offensive end. Multiple times, the Wildcats had multiple runners on base with fewer than two outs yet were not able to bring anyone home. The offense was able to stun Minnesota starting pitcher Sydney Smith and put itself in the right position with bases loaded and only one out, but the Gopher’s lock-down defense and relief pitching from Amber Fiser kept the Wildcats at bay.

Heading into Sunday, the Wildcats had a chance to walk away with at least a share of the title, but fell short yet again. Northwestern dropped the series rubber match 4-0 to Minnesota while Michigan swept Maryland this weekend, giving the Wolverines full claim of the title.

The Gophers came out hot scoring all four runs in the first three innings. From then on, it was a defensive battle filled with big plays like this one from Morgan Nelson.

Minnesota ace Amber Fiser had another nearly-flawless day on the mound, completing the shutout, striking out eight and only allowing one hit and one walk.

Ultimately, the Northwestern offense was unable to find the spark it needed to ever make it past second base.

While the Wildcats were unable to secure the regular-season title, they have a chance at redemption in the upcoming Big Ten Softball Tournament. Northwestern will kick off its quest for the post-season conference title on Friday, facing the winner of 7-seed Indiana vs. 10-seed Penn State thanks to clinching the 2-seed and a first-round bye.