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Rapid Reaction: Northwestern falls to Alabama 2-1, setting up win-or-go-home Game Three

Undefeated in the postseason no longer.


Just like its Game One win, Northwestern’s pitching fluidly weaved its way in and out of jams. Unlike in that victory, NU’s offense couldn’t cash in on the scoring opportunities it scraped together to secure a lead.

The Wildcats (42-12, 20-3 B1G) dropped Game Two of the Tuscaloosa Super Regional to Alabama (44-20, 14-10 SEC) 2-1, as a seventh-inning RBI single by Ashley Prange put the Crimson Tide ahead for good and forced a winner-take-all Game Three on Sunday.

After Lauren Boyd and Jaala Torrence engaged in a pitcher’s duel, allowing just two runs across a combined eight innings, the teams’ two aces — Danielle Williams and Montana Fouts — squared off, with the Tide getting the best of Williams. Jordyn Rudd drove in the Wildcats’ only run, while Dowling and Prange notched RBIs for Bama.

Alabama coach Patrick Murphy moved Prange up from the two-hole to the leadoff spot after her strong Game One, and it paid immediate dividends. The third baseman smacked a double off Boyd, and Jenna Johnson moved her over to third with a sacrifice bunt. Prange went on to score the game’s first run after Dowling drove a sac fly out to deep right field, putting the Crimson Tide up 1-0.

Torrence, who stifled the ‘Cats in relief the night prior, got off to a smoother start. All she surrendered in the first was a walk to Rudd before retiring the side.

In the top of the second, Emma Broadfoot worked a walk, giving Alabama another favorable offensive start. Faith Hensley pinch-ran for her, but inexplicably got picked off when she tried to steal second while Boyd had the ball in her hand. From there, Northwestern got out of the inning without any more trouble.

NU’s bats awoke in the bottom half of the inning, as Nikki Cuchran reached on an infield single for the team’s first hit of the night. An Angela Zedak single moved pinch-runner Ayana Lindsey to second, giving the ‘Cats their first runner in scoring position of the night with no one out.

But, Maeve Nelson and Kelsey Nader couldn’t capitalize on the opportunity, as both batters flew out. That brought Grace Nieto up to the dish. She battled to a 2-2 count and made contact, but the home plate umpire ruled her out for leaving the batter’s box early. That ended the inning, with Northwestern still trailing the Tide by a run.

Boyd got through the third inning without much trouble, as she punctuated her first 1-2-3 inning of the game by striking out Prange looking. It seemed like Torrence was thriving even more, though, as she induced weak contact from Skyler Shellmyer and Kansas Robinson to quickly record the first two outs.

That was when Rudd responded by hitting a grounder off of Torrence’s shin, which allowed the catcher to reach safely for the second time in two plate appearances. Cady followed it up with another infield single, and Cuchran worked a walk. Just like that, Northwestern had loaded the bases with two outs, and brought up Zedak — arguably its hottest slugger — to the plate.

It was the most crucial at-bat of the game to that point, and it was also the most dramatic one. The eight-pitch battle came down to a full-count, offspeed pitch from Torrence that nipped the outside corner of the plate. It caught Zedak looking for the third strike, leaving the bases loaded and Northwestern scoreless despite another golden opportunity.

The Tide’s top of the order strove to make the ‘Cats pay. Johnson and Dowling both reached with a single and a walk, respectively, before Ally Shipman’s fielder’s choice advanced Johnson to third. With runners on the corners, Boyd and Broadfoot fought for nine pitches before the NU junior got the hitter to whiff for a huge strikeout. It was a strong finish for Boyd, who gave up just one hit in 3.2 innings after Prange’s double to start the game.

Williams, who hurled a 122-pitch complete game just 24 hours before, replaced Boyd with two outs in the fourth. Shipman stole second base, but the Northwestern ace blazed a rise ball past Alabama second baseman Kali Heivilin to strike her out and get out of the jam.

Leading off the fourth inning, Nelson drove a fly to deep center, but missed tying the game by mere inches. Kristen White caught it at the wall, and Torrence retired her next two batters easily to blank Northwestern through four frames.

After Williams struck out Kenleigh Cahalan, Alabama turned to small ball. Both Larissa Preuitt and White reached on bunt singles, giving the Tide a scoring opportunity with the top of the lineup prowling. However, Williams swiftly retired Prange and Johnson to keep the game at 1-0.

The Wildcats continued to scrape out offense, as Shellmyer smacked a chopper to rack up yet another infield single for Northwestern — its fourth of the night. Although Torrence responded by striking out Robinson, Shellmyer took second base on a wild pitch, giving Kate Drohan’s team yet another scoring chance.

Finally, the ‘Cats broke through. Rudd reached for the third time in three tries, knocking a single up the middle. Shellmyer came flying home from second, evening the score at one before the throw could even reach the cutoff target. Cady followed that up with another single, ending Torrence’s night.

With its season on the line, Alabama relieved her with its own ace coming off less than 24 hours of rest: Montana Fouts.

The former All-American pulled through, forcing two soft flyouts to strand both runners. Two innings remained, and two of the country’s most decorated pitchers were set to duel for a second straight night.

Williams sent the first two batters of the sixth inning back to the dugout, but proceeded to hit Broadfoot and Heivilin. Northwestern trainers briefly came out onto the diamond to check on Rudd, who appeared to be favoring her non-throwing arm, but she remained in the game. Williams regained her control against Cahalan, who flew out to end the top of the sixth.

Fouts continued to roll, putting out the bottom of third of Northwestern’s lineup with ease. Preuitt built on that momentum on the offensive side, starting the top of the seventh with a single. White moved her over to scoring position with a bunt, bringing Prange to the plate with a prime chance to drive in the go-ahead run.

That’s exactly what she did. A single up the middle brought Preuitt in to make the score 2-1, and Prange advanced to second on the throw home. Alabama had reseized its edge in front of its roaring home crowd. No. 24 retired the next two batters, but the damage had been done; Northwestern would need to generate a run off Fouts to extend the game.

Luckily for NU, its top of the order was due up. But that didn’t matter for Fouts, who struck out Robinson and Rudd swinging to secure the victory. She took down all eight batters she faced, securing the series-tying win.

This will be the second straight season in which Northwestern will need to win a road Game Three in the Super Regional to advance to the Women’s College World Series. In 2022, the ‘Cats defeated Arizona State 8-6 to punch their ticket to Oklahoma City.

Northwestern will look to secure its bid once again on Sunday at 3 p.m. CT. The game will be broadcast on ESPN.