Despite chilly weather passing through Sharon J. Drysdale over the weekend, Northwestern softball remained red hot.
In their first taste of Big Ten action this year, the Wildcats swept the Michigan State Spartans in a three game series, improving to 22-4 and lengthening their winning streak to 12.
NU and MSU squared off twice on Friday, and pitcher Danielle Williams stole the show in both legs of the doubleheader.
In game one, Williams went the distance and notched a career-high 17 strikeouts, surrendering just one hit and walking only one Spartan. Northwestern’s offense scored all of its runs due to three errors by the Spartan defense, winning 3-0 in a sub-2-hour affair.
Lauren Boyd took the mound for the ‘Cats in the second game of the series, and the sophomore got help early. Thanks to two errors by Michigan State, NU opened a 3-0 lead after the bottom of the first. The second inning saw lots of fireworks—in the top of the frame, MSU’s Zaquai Dumas launched a two-run homer into center field, the second run Boyd has allowed all season. However, in the bottom of the inning, Rachel Lewis clobbered a towering shot to left that put the ‘Cats up 6-2.
Although NU tacked on two runs in the fourth via a Lewis RBI single and a Jordan Rudd sacrifice fly, the Spartans chased Boyd in the fifth, scoring two. In the sixth, MSU made it 8-6 as reliever Lauren Dvorak worked in and out of trouble. MSU opened the top of the seventh with a single and a double, but Williams entered and did not blink, never allowing a runner to cross. Northwestern prevailed 8-6, and Williams collected her 18th and 19th strikeouts on the day — numbers that earned her Big Ten Pitcher of the Week Honors for the second straight week and third time this season.
In the final game of the weekend, the Wildcats jumped on Michigan State starter Ashley Miller early, a recurring theme of the series. Skyler Shellmyer scored on a wild pitch in the first, while pinch runner Sammy Stanley crossed home in the second. Angela Zedak, Hannah Cady and Rudd tallied RBIs in the third and fourth innings as well. While MSU got on the board in the top of the sixth, Lewis smacked a grand slam over the right center wall that ended the game with Northwestern up 9-1. In total, Lewis went 4-9 with eight RBIs and two stolen bases against MSU en route to being named Big Ten Player of the Week.
The Wildcats have looked formidable in their first 26 games, but the next three matchups are some of the biggest of the season. No. 9 Northwestern hosts No. 23 Michigan — the reigning two-time Big Ten champs — at The J this weekend, beginning at 3:30 p.m. on Friday, April 1.