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Softball: Offensive struggles in Ann Arbor derail the Cats

The ‘Cats bats were quiet as mice.

University of Michigan Softball

Coming off of a winning weekend in Iowa City, Northwestern had an excellent opportunity to build on their momentum and make a statement during this weekend’s series in Ann Arbor. Following their series win over Iowa, the Wildcats were three games behind Michigan in the loss column (U of M had played four fewer games on the season) in the Big Ten standings. They sat at third in the conference behind Minnesota, who swept them two weekends prior. Unfortunately, the ‘Cats fell in three of four contests to the Wolverines, widening the gap between themselves and the top spot in the conference.

Things started off well for Northwestern, but the weekend ultimately ended in disappointment. Much like during the previous weekend’s series against Iowa, which featured a Danielle Williams perfect game in the series opener, NU’s ace was the story of Friday evening. Williams was once again stellar, giving up just one run in seven innings of work. The key to her success was her control, as she walked just one batter, hit one other and allowed just two hits while striking out six in 101 pitches.

Rachel Lewis started the scoring with an RBI single in the top of the third, driving Mac Dunlap home. Jordan Rudd led all players with two hits and two RBI — both of which were driven in on a bases-loaded double in the fifth inning. Angela Zedak drove in NU’s final run with a sac fly to score Skyler Shellmeyer. Michigan’s only run came via a Taylor Bump solo shot in the bottom of the sixth, and Northwestern prevailed, 4-1.

But things would soon shift for the worse, as Saturday was a day to forget for the Wildcats. Lauren Boyd struggled in the first leg of the day’s doubleheader, surrendering six earned runs on nine hits over six innings. Her offense didn’t help her much, as, aside from a two-run blast from Maeve Nelson, NU failed to drive in any runs. All in all, the ‘Cats tallied just three hits and three walks along with two HBP to tally just eight baserunners. Meanwhile, Michigan brought in seven total runs and started off the day with a 7-2 victory.

Northwestern started off game two — which featured another Williams start — strong, plating one in the top of the first on a double by Rudd. Lou Allan tied it up for the Wolverines in the bottom of the first, knocking a double of her own into left. In response, Rudd launched a ball over the left-center wall that drove in Skylar Shellmeyer and gave NU a 3-1 lead, which they took into the sixth inning.

But things started to fall apart for the ‘Cats in the second-to-last frame. Chandler Dennis came in to pinch-hit with two on in the bottom of the sixth for Michigan and delivered, ripping a two-run double off of Williams down the right-field line that tied the game at three.

Northwestern failed to score in the top of the seventh, and Williams struggled mightily in the bottom of the inning, allowing two of the first three batters she faced to reach base. Allan capped off the game with a three-run shot to left, walking it off for the Wolverines. Williams surrendered six earned runs while allowing eight hits and three walks throughout the game, while the NU offense recorded just six hits and one walk in the game. Strikeouts were a problem for the ‘Cats again, as they suffered seven punch-outs in game one of the doubleheader and nine in the second.

Hopes that Northwestern’s bats would wake up in the series finale proved futile. Morgan Newport pitched a solid game, allowing just four hits and two earned runs across five innings of work while striking out five. That strong showing, however, was not nearly enough to out-duel Michigan ace Alex Storako. The junior held the Wildcat offense to just four hits and one walk while striking out ten in a complete game start of seven innings. Northwestern failed to score and fell 2-0.

Northwestern had a chance to make a statement, and, after game one, it looked like as if they might. However, the Wildcats were unable to power through a rough offensive weekend in which they recorded just nine runs on 19 hits, hitting for a collective weekend average of .190.

Northwestern now finds itself three games back of Minnesota for second in the B1G and four-and-a-half games behind conference-leading Michigan. The ‘Cats will look to get back on track when they host in-state rival Illinois in Evanston next weekend.