Title-clinching effort stumbles over Spartans

Coley Harvey

Softball

There were only two things on the Wildcats’ minds entering this weekend against Michigan State. First, they wanted to continue their undefeated string of conference wins and improve to an unprecedented 16-0 in the Big Ten. Second, the Cats wanted to clinch the Big Ten title before next weekend’s regular season finales at No. 1 Michigan.

No. 15 Northwestern (35-12, 15-1 Big Ten) couldn’t fulfill either during their weekend games against Michigan State.

The first goal was dashed Friday when the Cats lost to Michigan State in extra innings. The second was dashed Sunday when Michigan (48-4, 13-2) kept themselves alive in the conference title chase by beating Michigan State twice in a doubleheader.

Instead of clinching the Big Ten title this weekend, next weekend’s games will determine the Big Ten’s regular-season champion. NU needs to win just one game against Michigan to secure the outright title.

NU’s game against Michigan State (21-27, 7-9) was scoreless entering the top of the eighth Friday. Then Michigan State right fielder Nicole Mercado faced NU pitcher Eileen Canney with two on and two out. Mercado rapped a sharp 3-2 line drive just a few feet inside the left field foul line.

As the ball bounced around in the corner, two runs scored.

“(Eileen) pitched her pretty well,” coach Kate Drohan said about Mercado’s RBI double. “(Mercado) just battled and got a good piece of the ball.”

Mercado saw nine pitches during the at-bat before getting the hit.

NU had its chance to come back in the bottom of the inning, but even with a two-out, bases-loaded rally, the Cats, whose bats had been quiet all game, failed to drive in a run, and lost 2-0.

“I think we were a little tentative,” hitting coach Caryl Drohan said. “We weren’t swinging at pitches we should hit. We were a little too indecisive on what pitches we were going to be aggressive on.”

After losing Friday’s game, the Cats beat Michigan State 14-2 Saturday in front of 200-plus in a run-rule shortened game.

In the sixth, the Cats belted four home runs — two of them were back-to-back shots to center field.

In the fourth, freshman Stephanie Churchwell and senior Erin Mobley did the same when Churchwell launched a first-pitch, two-run home run off the windowed stairwell of Welsh-Ryan arena.

One pitch later, delivering her first Senior Day hit, Mobley hit an opposite-field line drive over the left field wall.

Another big contributor Saturday was sophomore Garland Cooper, who went 4 for 4 and hit a home run in the sixth that scrapped the yellow stripe on the left field wall.

“I was thinking, ‘Just get a base hit. Just keep the inning going’,” Cooper said. “It just happened that I got a hold of one and it barely went over.”

Caryl Drohan was pleased with the Cats’ offense Saturday and said the team got Friday’s performance “out of their heads” and seemed more relaxed in the batter’s box.

This offensive explosion could not have come at a better time, Mobley said.

“It’s a great feeling for our batters to go into Michigan next weekend with that confidence,” she said.

Reach Coley Harvey at [email protected]stern.edu.

Friday

Mich St 2

NU 0

Saturday

Mich St 2

NU 14