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Rapid Reaction: Northwestern run-rules Nebraska 8-0, will face Indiana in Big Ten title game

A run-rule in the semifinal? Light work.

@NUSBcats on Twitter.

Northwestern may be playing its best softball at the perfect time.

After defeating Iowa 3-1 on Thursday evening thanks to masterful pitching performances from Lauren Boyd and Danielle Williams, Northwestern flashed both its offensive and defensive firepower against Nebraska. The Wildcats (37-11, 20-3 B1G) dominated the Cornhuskers (34-20, 13-10 B1G) 8-0 in the Big Ten Semifinal, forcing a five-inning run rule to advance to the Big Ten Championship against Indiana on Saturday.

Williams hurled a five-inning complete game, allowing four hits and two walks while striking out three batters. On the offensive side, multiple batters in Northwestern’s middle of the order erupted. Angela Zedak kept up her red-hot Big Ten Tournament run with a 2-for-3 day, picking up three RBIs with two doubles. Hannah Cady went 2-for-2 with two runs, two RBIs and a walk, while Nikki Cuchran also drove in two.

Williams walked Sydney Gray in the first inning, but retired the other three batters she faced to kick off the action. The heart of Northwestern’s lineup took advantage of that start, as five straight batters reached base following Skyler Shellmyer’s groundout.

Once Jordyn Rudd was safe on a fielder’s choice, Cady drew a walk. That brought Cuchran up to the plate, who worked a full count and drove in both Cady and Rudd with a double to put the ‘Cats up 2-0. On the next pitch, Zedak slugged another double to extend the lead to three.

Nebraska pitcher Courtney Wallace was able to get out of the inning; that would be it for her on the day. Williams retired her next three batters in order, which prompted Sarah Harness to relieve Wallace in the bottom of the second inning.

Harness got Kelsey Nader and Grace Nieto out, but Shellmyer knocked a two-out single and stole second base a few pitches later. However, the Cornhuskers escaped the jam by forcing Kansas Robinson to ground out to second.

Wallace — who doubled as Nebraska’s designated player — managed to pick up her team’s first hit of the day with an inning-opening single. After Williams forced Ava Bredwell to pop out and struck out her second batter of the day in Billie Andrews, Wallace stole second. That didn’t affect the ‘Cats, though, who got out of the inning with a groundout.

For the second time, NU’s middle of the order was due up. And for the second time, they erupted. Rudd and Cady both reached again with a walk and a single, respectively, and Cuchran moved them over to second and third with a sacrifice fly to left field. That brought up Zedak, who picked up her second and third RBIs of the day with a double just past the glove of Nebraska right fielder Caitlynn Neal. Neal was able to prevent Zedak from stretching the hit to three bases, but the damage was already done; Northwestern extended its lead to 5-0.

The Wildcats weren’t finished, either. Maeve Nelson came up next, and she crushed a rope of a solo home run to dead center field. Nader was able to pick up a single before Harness finally ended the inning, with the Huskers trailing 6-0 going into the fourth.

Williams continued to dominate, retiring the side yet again. Hannah Cady punctuated the half-inning with a sparkling backhand stab-and-throw on a quick ground ball down the third-base line to put out Gray.

Northwestern’s offensive explosion just kept going in the bottom half. Before Nebraska could even record an out, the top four batters in NU’s order got on. With the bases loaded, Cady brought home Shellmyer and Robinson with a single up the middle, extending the lead to 8-0. A fielder’s choice from Zedak and a walk from Nelson loaded the bases, but Harness was able to keep Nebraska from falling behind further by inducing a Nader groundout.

With three outs to generate a run and avoid a run-rule loss, left fielder Abbie Squier hit a single. However, Cady caught a scorching liner by pinch hitter Dakota Carter, and fired over to first to double off Squier.

With two outs, Wallace and Ashley Smetter hit singles, and Andrews drew a walk to load the bases. But Williams picked up a strikeout to preserve her complete game shutout.

The top-seeded ‘Cats will head back to the Big Ten title game for the first time since 2018, when they fell to Minnesota 9-6. They will take on No. 2-seed Indiana at 3 p.m. CT in Champaign, and the game will be broadcast on Big Ten Network.