The beginning of last week’s Inside NU recap of Northwestern’s series win over Maryland reads as follows:
“If the Northwestern Wildcats have any plans of letting up this season, they surely haven’t shown them as their season approaches its midpoint.”
Famous last words.
After an 18-2 start to the season — during which they never once yielded the top spot in the Big Ten — the ‘Cats were served a large slice of humble pie this weekend, dropping all four of their contests against Minnesota. In the process, they tripled their number of losses this season and relinquished their cherished place atop the standings.
The troublesome series for NU began on Friday with a lengthy bout against the Golden Gophers. Minnesota held a 2-0 lead for much of the game, thanks to two solo home runs off of ace Danielle Williams in the third and fifth innings. Williams was replaced after throwing five and two-thirds innings, striking out ten, giving up three hits and walking four. Morgan Newport kept U of M from extending its lead in relief, retiring the final batter of the top of the sixth.
In the bottom of the inning, Newport’s bat became the main attraction, as she tied the game with a two-RBI double. Neither team scored in the seventh, sending the game to extra innings. Newport and Minnesota starter Amber Fiser, who wound up throwing 156 pitches over nine innings, dueled fiercely in the extra frames until a fielding error by NU’s Rachel Lewis in the tenth opened the door for the Gophers to score the leading run. Minnesota’s Autumn Pease came in to close, securing a 3-2 win for her team in series opener.
Sydney Supple got the ball to start Saturday’s contest, and immediately faced pressure from the Gophers’ hitters, who drove in two in the first on a single and another pair in the second on a home run. Maeve Nelson launched a two-run homer to left in the bottom of the second to tighten the score to 4-2, but Minnesota scored off of Supple once more with an RBI single in the fourth to extend their lead to three before the Wisconsin native was pulled.
Supple’s replacement, first-year Lauryn Boyd, pitched a strong game, allowing only one run in three and a third innings. However, Northwestern couldn’t get anything going offensively after Nelson’s second inning shot and fell 6-2.
Sunday featured a doubleheader after one of two games originally scheduled for Saturday was postponed due to rain. The first match of the day was an all-out pitchers’ duel between Williams and Pease. Northwestern struck first this time around on a single from Jordyn Rudd, but the Gophers hit back in the third with a run of their own off an error by NU first baseman Nikki Cuchran.
Neither starter allowed another run in regulation, but, in the top of the eighth, Minnesota’s Delanie Cox recorded the first hit of her college career in fashion, launching a solo homer over the left field wall to break the 1-1 tie. Newport again appeared in relief and prevented any further damage, but Fiser, whose lengthy Friday start was protected by a stellar save from Pease, repaid her teammate’s favor and finished off the Wildcats by a final score of 2-1.
The second leg of the doubleheader was, by far, the highest scoring affair of the weekend. After both relieved earlier in the day, Fiser and Newport started in the circle for the series finale. Newport, however, showed greater signs of fatigue than her counterpart, giving up a three-run homer in the first.
Later on in the game, she allowed two baserunners, both of whom would score when Lauryn Boyd, who replaced Newport midway through the top of the second, gave up another three-run shot. Six runs were all the Gophers would need, as Northwestern scored only four on a pair of two-run blasts from Rudd and Lewis. However, they’d add another four on a pair of homers later on, taking the series finale 10-4.
The four-game skid marks the first time the Wildcats have been swept in nearly four years, and Northwestern’s nine total runs represent its lowest in a four-game set this season. The four losses dropped the ‘Cats from first to third in the standings, dropping by Michigan and Minnesota. They’ll attempt to right the ship in Iowa City next weekend, where they’ll play four games against the 14-9 Iowa Hawkeyes.