If nothing else, the second weekend of the season showed that #25 Northwestern (4-5) has the talent and ability to be one of the best teams in the country come late spring.
But the St Pete Clearwater Elite Invitational also displayed that there is plenty of work that Kate Drohan and her team needs to do to rid itself of the inconsistency that has characterized the season’s first nine games.
After a disappointing loss to #19 Georgia in a game in which NU led into the fourth inning, the Wildcats rebounded with a banner Saturday, edging out Kansas 5-4 and picking up a signature 6-2 win over then-#5 Florida State (now down to #9). However, even a furious late comeback couldn’t stop an extra innings defeat to Virginia Tech to stem some of Saturday’s momentum.
In the weekend opener, Northwestern took a 3-1 lead on UGA, but the Bulldogs responded in the fourth and fifth innings, plating four runs to take a lead they would not relinquish. Danielle Williams came into relieve Kenna Wilkey and allowed four runs in just 2.1 innings pitched, while the Wildcat bats went silent once Alley Cutting took the mound for Georgia in the third.
Needing a rebound day, the ‘Cats found multiple effective responses on Saturday. Down 4-2 to the Jayhawks in the fifth inning, NU put together a three-run frame powered by Rachel Lewis, Jordyn Rudd, Maeve Nelson and Morgan Newport. Kaley Winegarner hurled a scoreless final 3.2 innings to secure the victory.
Then against a much tougher task in the fifth-ranked Seminoles, Williams was in the circle and found the form that made her one of the Big Ten’s best pitchers as a freshman. She ultimately allowed just one earned run and two hits while striking out 11 batters in a complete game. Still, though, it was Northwestern that trailed 2-0 in the fifth inning to the 2018 national champions.
Kenna Wilkey jump-started the offense with a solo bomb to center field to cut the lead, and then the bats erupted in the sixth. Newport, who saw the ball well all day, roped a two-run single to give NU the lead, and Gracie Huff then beat out a throw for an infield single to keep the inning alive.
Lewis — who was ultimately named Big Ten Player of the Week after going 6-of-15 with one home run and five RBI — took full advantage of the situation, lining a bases-clearing double to provide all the insurance Williams needed.
After falling down 5-1 to a tricky Virginia Tech team in the finale, the ‘Cats rallied to knot things up at five and force extra innings. With the new extra inning rule of starting each inning with a base runner on second in effect, the Hokies brought one home in the top of the eighth, and NU could not answer, finishing off a 2-2 weekend. Wilkey suffered the loss despite throwing four innings without giving up an earned run.
Sophomore catcher Jordyn Rudd, who totaled five hits and three RBI, now leads the team with nine runs driven in. Her, Lewis, and, surprisingly, Huff, the freshman left fielder, have provided by far the most consistency in the Northwestern lineup over the first two weeks of the season.
NU will head to the Mary Nutter Classic this weekend, where it will face three top-fifteen opponents in the midst of another gauntlet: #15 Oregon, #7 Florida and #2 Washington.