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Softball: NU limps out of Mary Nutter Classic and into Norman for showdown with Oklahoma

After showing signs of putting things together in Florida, the weekend in California was a setback.

After starting the season ranked as high as 14th in the country, Northwestern struggled again this weekend, going 1-4 at the Mary Nutter Classic to drop them to 5-9 on the year. The Wildcats had 13 losses all of last year.

The series began Friday with two games against SEC opponents. Against an unranked but solid Auburn team, NU came out strong, jumping out to a 2-0 lead. However, starting pitcher Kaley Winegarner couldn’t make the lead hold up, allowing three unearned runs. Danielle Williams came in to relieve her, but the challenges in the circle continued, as she gave up 3 runs in 4.2 innings, and the ‘Cats took the loss 6-4.

NU’s next opportunity to rebound came against seventh-ranked Florida. Freshman pitcher Sydney Supple didn’t allow a run in her first 5.1 innings of work, but the Gators tied the game at one in the sixth. The Wildcats struck back to take a seventh inning lead, but Florida’s Hannah Adams laced a two-run, walk-off single to send NU winless into Saturday.

A new day yielded much of the same disappointment. Against no. 15 Oregon, Kenna Wilkey got rocked early, and the Wildcats couldn’t recover enough. The Ducks plated four in the second, and Maeve Nelson’s three-run bomb in the third inning was the only offense Northwestern could speak of. Williams and Winegarner each gave up a run in relief, and the struggles against ranked opponents continued in a 6-3 loss.

Needing to bounce back and secure a victory in the tournament, Kate Drohan’s squad did in a big way against Long Beach State. Williams once again didn’t have her sharpest stuff, giving up five runs (two of them earned) in 4.2 innings, and Supple picked up the win in relief.

The story for NU was the awakening of the bats. With the game tied 5-5 in the sixth, the ‘Cats put up a five-spot. They were led by Angela Zedak, who had three hits and two runs, and Morgan Newport, who had six RBI, four of which came on a grand slam.

Even at 1-3 for the weekend, a win against no. 2 Washington would have quelled a lot of the uneasiness of the shaky start. A week after upending fifth-ranked Florida State, Northwestern battled the Huskies hard.

Winegarner allowed two runs in 2.1 innings in her start, and Sydney Supple came in and flashed electric talent. The Wisconsin native hurled four innings of one-run ball, consistently confusing the Washington lineup.

The Wildcats were down to their final out and trailed by one when first-year Angela Zedak ripped a single to drive in Jordyn Rudd and tie the game. However, for the third time this season and second time this weekend, Northwestern lost on a walk-off, as Supple allowed a solo blast to Kelley Lynch in the bottom of the inning.

Once again, the primary struggle for the ‘Cats has been pitching. Danielle Williams, who fans expected to be NU’s biggest strong spot this year after posting a 1.55 ERA in her freshman year, has a 4.40 ERA and 1-4 record thus far. However, Supple has shown her talent and could be similar to what Williams was in 2019. The pitching staff is deep and has plenty of experience, but the execution from Williams and Kenna Wilkey have not been there.

Offensively, the bats haven’t been able to bail out inconsistent pitching. Rudd and Rachel Lewis are the only players hitting over .300, and Zedak and Nikki Cuchran round out the four batting .285 or better.

The ‘Cats look to get back on track this weekend, traveling to Norman, Oklahoma to participate in the Oklahoma Invitational. They kick off the weekend against North Texas on Friday at 10:30, and then follow it up with a rematch against #3 Oklahoma, the team that bested them in last year’s NCAA Super Regionals. NU will then finish the weekend by playing Abilene Christian at 10:30 on Saturday.