NU escapes Sunday with flawless record intact

Coley Harvey and Coley Harvey

No. 15 Northwestern was three strikes away from losing its 13-game conference winning streak Sunday when one dramatic swing reversed its fate.

Trailing 1-0 in the top of the seventh inning of game two of a doubleheader against Penn State, freshman shortstop Stephanie Churchwell approached the plate with a runner at first and two outs.

Wasting no time, Churchwell stepped into a first-pitch fastball and sent it barely over the left-centerfield fence.

Her two-run home run proved to be the game-winner, as the Wildcats won 2-1.

“I was just trying to get a pitch I could do something with,” Churchwell said. “I just wanted to try and bring (freshman Darcy Sengewald) around or at least move her over. Once I hit the ball, I knew I hit it well, so I knew it had a chance to go out.”

The Cats fell behind early in the game when Penn State shortstop Jen Acunto hit a 0-2 solo home run to straightaway centerfield.

Going into the seventh, the Cats had been held to three hits and struck out 14 times against Penn State starter Missy Beseres. (Her sister, Jenni, played at NU in the late 1990s.) Beseres ended the game with 15 strikeouts.

With the win, NU (34-10) improved its conference record to 14-0.

“This win shows the Big Ten how tough we are,” Sengewald said. “It shows them that we don’t give up.

“They better be ready because we’re playing seven strong, and they have got to do the same.”

Sengewald was Sunday’s defensive star at third base, catching one ball in particular that prevented Penn State (28-18, 6-7) from scoring in game one.

In the third inning with a runner at third and two outs, Sengewald dove to her left and snared a one-hop ground ball.

She popped up and threw out the batter. Had the ball gotten past her, the run would have scored to give the Nittany Lions the lead.

“I was just trying to put my glove on the ball and make something happen for our team,” Sengewald said. “I try to never take a pitch off. Every pitch I feel like I’m as prepared as if it’s going to come to me.”

In the fifth inning, the Cats put together a two-out rally that ended after two singles, two triples and three runs.

Senior Erin Mobley began the rally when she beat out a ground ball hit to the second baseman.

Sophomore Garland Cooper followed her with a line drive triple to right field that shot past the diving fielder.

Two batters later, junior Kristen Amegin launched another RBI triple into right field.

With three runs in, the damage had been done, as sophomore pitcher Eileen Canney retired Penn State’s hitters in 1-2-3 fashion in the sixth and seventh innings to complete a 3-0 shutout.

The Cats, who had only three hits before the rally, had not seen much offensive production until that point.

“When our hitters see a pitcher for the third and fourth time, they’re going to take better swings at better pitches,” Drohan said. “When the momentum shifted our way, we just kept going with it.”

NU, who was unable to play Friday and Saturday because of rain and cold weather, will try to maintain this newly established momentum when it goes to South Bend, Ind., on Tuesday for a mid-week doubleheader with Notre Dame.

Reach Coley Harvey at [email protected]

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