Despite holding one of the nation’s leading offenses in Kentucky (40-13, 13-11 SEC) to only three runs, Northwestern (29-16, 29-15 B1G) fell to Big Blue in the first game of the NCAA Tournament’s Lexington Regional on Friday.
In a battle of aces, UK’s Autumn Humes emerged victorious with a final stat line of seven innings pitched, six hits allowed, one walk, one earned run and four strikeouts. NU’s Danielle Williams posted a solid line of her own with six innings pitched, four hits allowed, two walks, two earned runs and four strikeouts against a Kentucky lineup that had the highest team batting average in the SEC this season.
After a scoreless first inning in which both teams left runners in scoring position, Northwestern struck first, as Maeve Nelson hit a towering drive to left that stayed fair for a solo home run on the second inning’s first pitch. UK fired back immediately, though, driving in two runs on an RBI single before an out was even recorded in the bottom of the second.
While one run scored organically, the second of said runs came in when the home plate umpire ruled that catcher Jordyn Rudd obstructed the runner’s path to the plate. Video replay showed that Kentucky’s runner, pitcher Autumn Humes, may have had an angle toward the plate.
“I thought it was a clean softball play,” said NU’s head coach Kate Drohan following the loss. “It’s a tough call, especially when the ball beats the runner by so much.”
The hosting Wildcats scored another on a fielder’s choice to second, leaving themselves with a 3-1 lead at the end of the inning.
From that point forward, runs were a commodity for both teams, though each had their chances. One particularly notable squandered opportunity for Northwestern came in the top of the fifth inning, after Nikki Cuchran singled and Emma Bartz replaced her on first as a pinch runner. Mac Dunlap followed that up with a sacrifice bunt that initially converted, with Bartz reaching second safely as Dunlap was thrown out at first. However, after said throw to first, UK threw over to second and caught Bartz off the bag after she had taken a round toward third base.
Later, down to their final out of the game and still trailing by two, Northwestern mounted a rally that nearly brought the game to a tie. Cuchran — who wound up hitting three-for-three on the day — doubled to bring Dunlap — who represented the tying run — to the plate. Dunlap grounded a ball to Kentucky shortstop Erin Coffel, who misfired to first, allowing Cuchran to score and Dunlap to reach safely and advance to second base.
This gave NU a good chance to tie with their leadoff hitter and batting average leader Skyler Shellmyer at the plate and the speedy Dunlap in scoring position. Shellmyer chopped a ball back up the middle that nearly made it over the glove of a jumping Humes. However, the ace pitcher fielded the ball cleanly and fired over to first to end the game.
The margin of error for NU is now zero, as they’ve lost one game in a double elimination regional tournament. To advance to the superregional round, they’ll have to run off four consecutive wins, including at least one against this same Kentucky squad. The ‘Cats will face the loser of Notre Dame and Miami (OH) on Saturday.