Northwestern extends win streak with sweep over Wisconsin
By Patrick Winograd
Northwestern (28-9, 13-1 B1G) came into the weekend on a five-game winning streak, and looked to extend that streak in Madison against Wisconsin (22-14, 7-5 B1G).
Wisconsin started conference play by winning seven of their first nine games, but the Wildcats proved to be too much for the Badgers to handle.
Northwestern was able to sweep Wisconsin, outsourcing the Badgers 11-6 over the course of a low-scoring three game series.
A pitchers’ duel started off the series between the ‘Cats and the Badgers. Neither team registered a hit until Rylie Crane hit a single in the bottom of the third. However, the first (and only) run of the game was actually scored before Wisconsin got the first hit.
In the top of the second inning, Northwestern loaded the bases on a hit-by-pitch and two walks. Grace Nieto drew a walk with the bases loaded and one out, scoring Hannah Cady. After the run scored, a fielder’s choice and a groundout ended the inning with the Badgers limiting the ‘Cats to just one run.
Lauren Boyd tossed three scoreless innings before she was replaced by Danielle Williams, and the action didn’t pick back up until the bottom of the sixth inning. After getting herself into a bases-loaded jam with no one out, Williams wiggled her way out of the jam with a strikeout and then an inning-ending double play.
In the bottom of the seventh inning, Nieto made an extraordinary diving catch to stop Wisconsin from getting the leadoff runner on base. Williams induced a ground out and then a strikeout, sealing a 1-0 victory for the ‘Cats in the series opener.
The second game of the series featured much more action than the first. For the second game in a row, Northwestern struck first with a bases-loaded walk. In the top of the second inning, the ‘Cats loaded the bases as a result of a walk, a hit-by-pitch, and a single. With the bases loaded and two outs, reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Week Kansas Robinson drew a walk on a full count, scoring Nikki Cuchran to give Northwestern a 1-0 lead that lasted through the end of the second inning.
Cady hit a two-out double in the top of the third, and Cuchran extended the Northwestern lead to 2-0 by bringing home Cady with an RBI single. However, the Badgers quickly responded, scoring their first run of the series via a Katie Keller solo home run to cut the lead to 2-1.
The score remained at 2-1 until Skyler Shellmeyer led off the top of the fifth inning by hitting her first home run of the season. Northwestern extended the lead once again in the top of the sixth inning with the first multi-run inning of the series for either team. The Wildcats loaded the bases with one out, and Shellmeyer continued her great day with a two-RBI single that brought home Nieto and Angela Zedak, while advancing Robinson to third. Maeve Nelson hit a sacrifice fly to bring home Robinson, and Northwestern held a commanding 6-1 lead heading into the bottom of the sixth inning.
Things got a bit tense in the bottom of the seventh, however, as Cami Henry walked the leadoff hitter Molly Schlosser, and gave up a two-run home run to Keller that brought the lead down to 6-3. Henry walked Kayla Konwent, and Northwestern was forced to bring in Williams to try to close out the game. Brooke Kuffel hit a single, and all of a sudden, the tying run came up to the plate, in the form of Ellie Hubbard. Hubbard grounded into a fielder’s choice for the first out of the inning, and Crane did the same for the second out of the final frame. Peyton Bannon, who had two hits already, stepped up to the plate as Wisconsin’s final hope, but she flew out to end the game.
In the third and final game of the series, the same patterns emerged. Both teams started out slow, until Northwestern scored the first run of the game. In the top of the fourth inning, Cady reached on an error, which was quickly followed up by a Cuchran walk and Zedak single to load the bases with one out. Nelson grounded out, but the groundout gave the ‘Cats a 1-0 lead. Kendall Peterson pinch hit for Nieto, and delivered with a two-out single to put the ‘Cats up 3-0.
Wisconsin attempted to respond in the bottom of the fourth inning, but after a walk put Konwent on base, pinch-runner Bree Mitchell was thrown out at home while trying to score on a Keller double. Later in the fourth, a single by Hubbard brought Keller home to put Wisconsin on the board, cutting the lead to 3-1.
Northwestern held the 3-1 lead until the bottom of the seventh inning. However, after starting pitcher Sydney Supple got the first two outs in the seventh, Wisconsin mounted a two-out rally. Emily Bojan singled, and Schlosser hit a two-run home run to tie the game at three. Williams came in once again for Northwestern, to pitch the third game in a row. Williams walked the first two batters she faced, but struck out Keller to send the game to extra innings.
Both teams committed errors in the eighth inning, but those mistakes proved to be harmless as neither team scored in the first frame of extra innings. Nelson drew a leadoff walk in the top of the ninth, and Nader moved her over to third with a one-out single. Shellmeyer lined out, but Nelson scored on a sacrifice fly that eventually ended the inning with Nader getting caught in a pickle. The ‘Cats led 4-3 heading into the bottom of the ninth, and after a two-out double by Ava Kuszak gave the Badgers a runner in scoring position, Williams promptly ended the threat and the game by striking out Keller.
After the three-game series sweep over the Badgers, the ‘Cats will take their eight-game winning streak on the road again for another three-game set against the Michigan Wolverines (22-16, 8-5 B1G).