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Softball: Northwestern defeats Illinois, sweeps Wisconsin as win streak extends to eight

Everything is going right for the ‘Cats.

Northwestern Softball/@NUSBcats

Make it another perfect week for the Wildcats. After putting forth an offensive classic against the Nittany Lions last weekend, the Northwestern (28-9, 13-1) went 4-0 in Big Ten play this week.

The Wildcats welcomed in-state rival Illinois to the J in their mid-week contest on Wednesday. Lauren Boyd got the ball to open the game and threw 3.2 innings of one-hit softball. However, she loaded the bases in the bottom of the fourth, and Danielle Williams replaced her. Williams struck out the final Illini batter to strand the runners and went on to cruise through the final 3.1 innings.

The Wildcats regained the lead after Kansas Robinson laid down a bunt that scored Kelsey Nader. When the first-year stole second, an error by the catcher allowed Grace Nieto to trot in from third, and Robinson would come in to score on a sac fly two batters later. Nikki Cuchran and Angela Zedak added RBI singles as the ‘Cats rallied for a five-run fourth inning. The Fighting Illini were unable to match the Wildcats, as NU sailed to a 6-1 victory to sweep its season set against Illinois.

After four straight at the J, the ‘Cats headed north to Madison to take on the Badgers in a three-game set. The Badgers, who entered the weekend 7-2 in Big Ten play, statistically have the second-best pitching staff in the conference.

In Friday’s series opener, the ‘Cats were locked in a pitchers’ duel with Wisconsin. The only run between either team in the game was an RBI walk by Nieto, who took a full-count pitch just off the plate. Lauren Boyd once again opened the game in the circle and pitched three innings without giving up a run. Williams then came in to relieve No. 15 and dominated the back end of the game. Nieto added to her RBI with a web gem in seventh, sprawling out for a diving catch just behind the second base bag as NU held on to win 1-0.

With weather threatening Sunday’s game, the teams agreed to play two on Saturday. In the first game, Cami Henry tossed six innings, giving up three runs on two homers by Katie Keller. However, the ‘Cats’ offense was able to pick up the slack and slug their way to victory. Cuchran added another RBI, and Skyler Shellmyer tallied three RBIs, including a two-run shot for her first home run of the season. Maeve Nelson posted a sacrifice fly to pad the ‘Cats’ lead to 6-1. After Henry surrendered her second dinger of the game, Williams came in and slammed the door on the Badgers, closing out a 6-3 NU victory.

In Game Two of the doubleheader, the Wildcats sent Sydney Supple to the circle for her first start since Feb. 25. Northwestern jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the top of the fourth, highlighted by a two-run single by Kendall Peterson — tying her season high. Supple pitched a gem of the game, hurling 6.2 innings of one-run softball.

However, the Badgers, down to their final out, got a runner on base, and Emily Bojan ripped a two-run, game-tying home run over the center field fence. But, the ‘Cats broke the tie in the top of the ninth when Shellmyer’s sacrifice fly drove in Nelson, and Williams, in her third relief appearance of the weekend, knifed through Wisconsin’s lineup to stave off the Badgers 4-3 in nine innings, completing the sweep.

With the four wins this week, the ‘Cats have won eight in a row and 18 out of their last 19. In conference play, Northwestern leads most major statistic categories in Big Ten play, pacing the league in batting average, RBIs, slugging percentage and on-base percentage. In the circle, the Wildcats have the best team ERA, most strikeouts and lowest batting average by an opponent.

Northwestern returns to the diamond next weekend as it travels to Ann Arbor to take on the Wolverines in a three-game series. The first game is scheduled to begin Friday at 5 p.m. CT, while the next two will start at 1 p.m and noon.