They don’t call them the Cardiac ‘Cats for nothing.
After eking out just one hit in six innings, the Wildcats lived up to their nickname and saved their best for last. A walk-off hit by Maeve Nelson propelled Northwestern (38-11, 20-3 B1G) to a come-from-behind 2-1 victory over Indiana (42-16, 18-5 B1G) to secure the program’s third Big Ten Tournament title.
NU had just four hits on the day, with three coming in the bottom of the seventh. The team was able to rally, in large part, because of another dominant day from Danielle Williams, who pitched seven innings, permitting only four hits and one run.
Williams started her second game in a row for the Wildcats. In the top of the first, a line drive was hit right at Nikki Cuchran, who beat the runner to the bag to end the inning. In the bottom of the inning, first-year Kansas Robinson’s stellar campaign continued, as she ripped a double off the center field wall; however, the ‘Cats were unable to capitalize on the opportunity. Two consecutive shallow flyballs to left field left Robinson stranded in running position, and the teams finished the first frame scoreless.
In the top of the second, Williams retired the side in order, striking out two with a filthy changeup. In the bottom of the frame, Cuchran worked a leadoff walk, but the Wildcats squandered the opportunity. After two flyouts, pinch-runner Ayana Lindsey was caught attempting to swipe second base — ending the inning with no one left on the base paths.
In the top of the third, Maeve Nelson booted a ground ball, and a bloop single set the Hoosiers up with first and second with no one out. A sac bunt moved the runners over. In a strange play, the Wildcats got Indiana in a rundown, but the umpire said Nelson missed the tag and the runner was safe at home. After a long review, the call on the field stood and Indiana took a 1-0 lead. Northwestern was unable to answer in the bottom of the inning, going down in order.
In the top of the fourth inning, the Hoosiers created a little traffic on the basepaths, but Williams kept IU off the scoreboard. After two straight fielders choices, Avery Parker ripped a single to center field, which set up runners on the corners; however, the play was null because Brianna Copeland left first base early on a hit-and-run, resulting in the third out and preventing a Hoosiers threat.
Robinson led off the bottom of the fourth by getting hit by a pitch. It did not matter, though, as Hannah Cady dribbled into a double play — leaving the ‘Cats still scoreless and trailing 1-0 after four.
In the top of the fifth, Nelson’s throw across the diamond just beat the runner at first. The ensuing batter ripped a line drive off the lip of the glove of a leaping Cady. The baserunner would not matter, as Williams got two easy outs, including a great scoop by Cuchran, to end the inning. The ‘Cats went down one-two-three again in the bottom of the inning.
Williams retired the Hoosiers in order to start the sixth inning. In the bottom of the inning, Nader worked a leadoff walk on a full count. A sac bunt moved the first-year to second, but a phenomenal over-the-shoulder catch by shortstop Brooke Benson on a looping pop-up by Robinson kept the ‘Cats off the board — holding the score at 1-0 into the final frame.
In the top of the seventh, Sarah Stone lifted a fly ball that fell just in front of a diving Zedak for a leadoff double, setting IU up with a runner in scoring position. However, Williams retired the next three batters to keep the Hoosiers off the board and hold the Wildcats’ deficit at one.
In the ‘Cats’ final chance, Jordyn Rudd found a hole on the left side of the infield for a leadoff single. Cady followed it up with a double to put the winning run in scoring position. After an eight-pitch at-bat, Cuchran worked a walk; on ball four, Copeland threw the ball to the backstop for a wild pitch, and pinch-runner Lauren Sciborski sprinted home to tie the game.
From there, IU walked Zedak to load the bases with no outs. The following at-bat, Nelson launched a ball over the center fielder’s head to walk it off — crowning the ‘Cats as champs for the first time in 15 years.
Northwestern will have to wait until tomorrow night to find out where it is seeded for the NCAA Tournament.