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Softball: Northwestern drops one of four to Maryland but remains atop Big Ten standings

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The ‘Cats now sit at 18-2.

Northwestern Athletics

If the Northwestern Wildcats have any plans of letting up this season, they surely haven’t shown them as their season approaches its midpoint.

Twenty games through a 44-game regular season campaign, the ‘Cats have only lost twice, including once this weekend during their first true road trip of the year against Maryland. Still, NU took care of the Terps in the weekend’s other three matches to claim yet another series win in what has been somewhat of a dream season thus far.

In Friday’s opening contest, Danielle Williams — who was dominant in her first several starts of the season and remained undefeated coming into the series despite two weaker appearances against Wisconsin the prior weekend — got back on track with a masterpiece of a start. Over a shortened complete game of six innings pitched, Williams shut the Terps out on three hits while walking none and striking out eight. Williams was also one of four Wildcats to drive in runs. She was joined by Rachel Lewis, Angela Zedak (who brought in two runners), and last week’s Big Ten Player of the Week Morgan Newport, who launched a three-run homer in the top of the sixth to give the ‘Cats the mercy rule-qualifying 9-0 lead in the series opening win.

Williams’ undefeated record would die at 9-0, though, as she picked up a loss in relief in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader, NU’s only defeat in the series. The ‘Cats got out to a 1-0 lead in the third on a Maeve Nelson double and later rallied back from a 2-1 deficit to take a 3-2 lead in the sixth behind a two-RBI single from Williams, who relieved and pinch hit for the starter Lauryn Boyd.

But in the bottom of the seventh, Williams allowed a solo homer to tie the game, followed by a triple and walk-off single that gave Maryland a 4-3 victory.

The ‘Cats bounced back in the second leg of the doubleheader, scoring six runs in the first two innings. (Inside) NU’s starter, Sydney Supple, was pulled after one inning following three earned runs from the Terps in the second that kept the contest within a reasonable margin.

Newport, who replaced Supple in the circle, was nearly perfect in her six innings of relief, giving up no runs on three hits while striking out six. The Northwestern offense also chipped in another four runs, including two on a homer from Lewis, her second of the game. The strong relief of Newport and the added insurance runs secured an easy win for the ‘Cats, with a final score of 10-3.

Williams took to the circle again to start the series finale, and pitched six innings while allowing only two runs. In the bottom of the seventh, however, she gave up another two while retiring only one batter before the sisters Drohan replaced her with Newport. The final inning-mishap wasn’t of much concern for NU, as they had already built up nine runs of their own on the back of a strong offensive campaign led by Maeve Nelson, who had three RBI. Newport retired the final two batters, and Northwestern traveled home on top, 9-4.

Williams now leads the Big Ten with ten wins, and has the best winning percentage of any Big Ten pitcher with five or more decisions. As a team, the ‘Cats are hitting for a conference-leading batting average of .316, 58 points higher than the next best hitting team, Nebraska. They’ve also scored a B1G-best 134 runs, 39 more than the Cornhuskers, who also rank second in runs scored.

With a three-game lead over Michigan for the top spot in the Big Ten, the Wildcats will face their toughest test yet next weekend, when they welcome Minnesota to Evanston for a four-game set. The Gophers currently sit directly behind the Wolverines in the standings. Friday’s game, which has a first pitch time of 3 p.m. CST, will be televised on ESPNU, while Sunday’s game, set to start at 11 a.m., will be broadcast on the Big Ten Network.