8-0 Big Ten start best since 1982

Coley Harvey

Timely hits, perfectly placed sacrifice bunts and clutch, comeback playing allowed No. 18 Northwestern to complete its second consecutive four-game sweep of conference opponents this weekend.

The Wildcats (26-9, 8-0 Big Ten) traveled to Minnesota (18-20, 1-7) and Wisconsin (12-17, 3-5) in recording their second weekend sweep of Big Ten opponents.

The last time NU had a similar conference start was in 1982, when the Cats went 8-0 in a conference season that was composed of eight games. That team went on to win a Big Ten championship.

One of the players that led NU on Sunday was freshman shortstop Stephanie Churchwell.

Churchwell was pleased with the start, saying she was satisfied with how well the team has been playing in their conference thus far.

“To be a freshman and to go 8-0 in your first Big Ten games is amazing,” Churchwell said.

NU beat Minnesota 7-4 on Friday and 5-2 on Saturday.

On Sunday, Churchwell hit a combined 7 for 8 in a doubleheader against Wisconsin. It was her final hit of the day that helped pull the Cats past Wisconsin in the second game.

In the bottom of the fifth inning of a 2-2 tie, Churchwell delivered a single that led to her scoring the game-winning run. After right fielder Erin Mobley reached base on a Wisconsin error, sophomore first baseman Garland Cooper was hit by a pitch.

With the bases loaded, junior catcher Jamie Dotson dumped a single into right field, driving in Churchwell for Dotson’s Big Ten-leading 40th RBI. Mobley and Cooper were thrown out on that play.

Churchwell’s base hits were a result of her “just seeing the ball well” this weekend.

“I was just trying to make contact with the softball,” Churchwell said.

Despite sweeping conference opponents for the second time in as many weeks, coach Kate Drohan said the Cats did not play as well as they could Sunday.

“We didn’t play our best softball today, ” Drohan said on Sunday. “But it was our will that helped us pull it all off.”

In Sunday’s first game, the Cats came back from a fourth-inning 5-2 deficit to take an 8-6 lead in the sixth inning, before going on to win 8-7.

“Everyone fought hard in both games,” said Mobley, who hit a third-inning two-run home run. “It was a battle in both games that was fought hard to the finish.”

NU is one conference win away from becoming the first softball team in school history to have a 9-0 start.

Only two Big Ten teams have had such conference starts. In 1994 Indiana had a 10-game win streak at the start of conference play. The Hoosiers’ streak was snapped by Northwestern. A decade later, Michigan garnered nine consecutive wins to open conference play.

“This is so exciting,” said Mobley, the only senior on the team, about the conference start. “That’s exactly why I came to NU — to help build a great program.”

Reach Coley Harvey at [email protected]