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Softball: Rocky start in opening weekend sees Northwestern struggle out west

Some very close losses stung the Wildcats.

via NUSports.com

Northwestern softball (2-3) got off to a tough start in its first weekend of play despite being ranked 14th in the nation heading into the season.

The ‘Cats traveled to Tempe, Arizona to play in the Kajikawa Classic where they faced Utah, Seattle, No. 12 Tennessee, No. 22 Arizona State and Portland State. They managed to leave the weekend with two wins but dropped two ranked games and suffered a rough loss to an unranked Utah team in their opening game of the season.

In their opening day double-header, the ‘Cats took on Utah and Seattle.

Northwestern fell 3-2 to the Utes despite taking an early lead. The ‘Cats struck first in the matchup and took the lead in the bottom of the first when Rachel Lewis scored on a passed ball. The 1-0 Northwestern advantage held until the top of the sixth when Ellessa Bonstrom drilled a three-run home run to left field, giving the Utes the advantage. Northwestern responded with a run from Emma Bartz off a Jordyn Rudd RBI at the bottom of the inning; however, their comeback efforts were not enough to secure the win.

Later that day, NU bounced back with a 1-0 victory over Seattle. Kenna Wilkey got the win on the mound, allowing just two hits in the shutout. She did not allow a single hit from the Redhawks from the second through seventh inning and recorded six strikeouts. On the offensive side of the ball, the ‘Cats scored their first and eventual game-winning run in the fourth inning with a Rudd RBI to right-center that sent Sammy Stanley home. They recorded four hits with Danielle Williams accounting for two of them.

After splitting on Friday, Northwestern had an uphill battle on Saturday against two ranked teams: No. 12 Tennessee and No. 22 Arizona State. NU fell 6-3 to the Vols after another detrimental inning made it too difficult to recover from. The Wildcats took the early lead off Angela Zedak’s first career RBI, but by the second, Tennessee tied it up and gained the 2-1 advantage. Northwestern managed to tie the game up again in the fifth off a Rudd RBI to send Lewis home. However, half an inning later, a three-run home run gave the Vols the 5-2 lead. They further extended their lead to four at the end of the sixth. NU tried to respond in the seventh, but a single unearned run off an error was not enough to close the gap.

NU gave up 10 hits in the matchup – eight off Williams and three off Morgan Newport. However, Newport recorded three strikeouts in a little over one inning of play.

Later that day, Northwestern dropped another ranked game to No. 22 Arizona State in a 6-5 hard-fought battle. The ‘Cats earned the momentum early off a Lewis home run over the left field scoreboard off the game’s first pitch. They extended their lead to two in the second before ASU tied it up with two home runs in the bottom of the inning. Another NU home run form Newport regained the two-run lead in the third, but Arizona State tied it up with a pair of runs in the fourth and fifth. Heading into the seventh, Northwestern held the one-run lead, but a clutch two-run walk-off home run in the game’s final frame earned Arizona State the victory.

While the first two days did not go as the ‘Cats hoped, they were able to bounce back on Sunday in an 8-3 blowout win over Portland State. NU took an early 2-0 lead in the second off a double from Mac Dunlap. Portland State responded with one run in the top of the third; however, Northwestern added six runs in the bottom of the inning to take an 8-1 lead. Maeve Nelson and Rudd each charted a home run in the inning with an additional big hit from Lewis as well. She finished the game with three hits. While Portland State tried to fight back, their efforts were not enough to erase the deficit.

After a weekend of ups and downs, Northwestern will hope to find consistency. Next weekend, the Wildcats will travel to Clearwater, Florida to play in the ESPN Clearwater/St. Pete Tournament. They will face No. 16 Georgia on Friday, Kansas and No. 9 Florida State on Saturday and Virginia Tech on Sunday.