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Softball: Northwestern splits its second consecutive series

Purdue proved tougher than its record indicated.

NU Athletics

As the regular season nears its end, Northwestern is still struggling to regain the dominance it once experienced in 2021. The Wildcats split a four-game series against Purdue this weekend despite the fact that the Boilermakers entered the weekend with a 13-23 record on the year.

Ahead of the the weekend’s duel doubleheaders, NU had won its series against every team ranked below fourth in the conference that it had faced, dropping only three of 24 contests against such squads. In losing two of four to the Boilermakers, who currently sit at 11th in the B1G, the ‘Cats stretch of near-perfection against the conference’s middle and lower tiers came to a close.

Northwestern got out to an early lead to start the series’ first game, going up 3-0 in the first inning on a three-run homer by Morgan Newport. Typically, a cushion that large would be enough for the ‘Cats to win in a game that their ace Danielle Williams — who entered the weekend with a 1.90 ERA — started.

However, despite the fact that Purdue has a middle-of-the-pack .250 team batting average, Williams had arguably her worst outing of the season on Friday, allowing six earned runs in four innings pitched. Newport gave up an additional run in relief, and the offense was stagnant after the first inning home run, leaving Purdue with a 7-3 victory in game one.

Newport started in the circle for the day’s second contest and fared far better against the Boilermaker lineup than Williams. Over a complete game of seven innings pitched, she didn’t allow a single earned run — though two would score on an error by left fielder Angela Zedak in the fourth.

Offensively, the ‘Cats posted the same run total of three that they had in the first match. Two runs scored in the fourth on an RBI double from Maeve Nelson and an error by Purdue shortstop Rachel Becker on a ball off the bat of Zedak, and Zedak drove in the game-winning run on a single in the sixth, as the ‘Cats ended their Friday performance with a 3-2 victory.

The second set of doubleheaders featured a pair of pitching duels that yielded only one run total in each of the two games. PU was victorious in the first contest of the day, with its starter Ashley Peters holding the Wildcats scoreless over a complete game of seven innings. Northwestern’s pitcher, first-year Lauren Boyd, was similarly impressive, but allowed the game’s only run on an RBI double in her sixth and final inning of work.

Coming off a disastrous start the night prior, Williams took the circle for the ‘Cats in the series finale and had quite the redemptive performance. In her sixth complete game shutout of the season, she dazzled with eight strikeouts, including one to close the game with the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh. The lone run of support she needed scored in the third on an RBI single from Jordyn Rudd, and the Wildcats went home on a happy note with a 1-0 win.

Northwestern is still the Big Ten’s third place team at 26-14, three games ahead of the Illinois Fighting Illini, who followed up their series split against the ‘Cats by winning only one of their four games against Ohio State this past weekend. The Michigan Wolverines, against whom the Wildcats took one of four two weeks ago, clinched the conference title by sweeping the Minnesota Golden Gophers, who are four games ahead of NU and locked into second place.

The Wildcats will play their final series of the regular season next week in a four-game home set against the 21-19 Nebraska Cornhuskers. Afterward, the field for the NCAA Tournament will be announced at 8 p.m. CT on Sunday, May 16, with the selection show being broadcast on ESPN2. Barring catastrophe against the Huskers, the ‘Cats are somewhat of a shoo-in to make the tournament, as the Big Ten is very likely to have at least three teams qualify after placing six teams in the bracket the last time the tourney was held in 2019.