With two outs and runners on second and third in the bottom of the seventh, junior Lauren Delaney threw two consecutive strikes to Wisconsin’s Livi Abney.
Abney crushed the 0-2 offering right back at Delaney. The ball careened off Delaney’s leg and rolled to her left. Without hesitation, Delaney picked up the ball and threw it to freshman Adrienne Monka at first for the final out of the game.
It wasn’t pretty, but it was good enough. So too was the Wildcats’ weekend trip to Madison, Wis.
NU snuck out of the series with a sweep, ending its four-game conference losing streak. The Cats edged the Badgers 3-1 on Friday and 2-0 on Saturday.
“We came out and played good softball,” senior Tammy Williams said. “We came out and played as a team, and that’s what we needed to do this weekend.”
Delaney, who had given up 21 earned runs and 35 walks in her past four Big Ten outings, was the key to the Cats’ success. Against the Badgers, Delaney gave up six walks while striking out 14 hitters. But more importantly, she surrendered no earned runs.
“Lauren spent a lot of time and attention getting comfortable again,” coach Kate Drohan said. “Making some physical adjustments, some mental adjustments, and I’m just really proud of the work she’s done.”
Despite committing four errors in two games, the Cats were able to overcome their mistakes to limit the Badgers to one run – matching their season low for runs allowed in a Big Ten series.
Leading 3-1 in the bottom of the seventh of game one, Monka couldn’t catch a sharply hit ball. But the freshman quickly picked up the ball and nailed a Wisconsin runner at the plate. Delaney then struck out the next batter, ending any hopes of a Badgers comeback.
In the fifth inning of the second game, junior Nicole Pauly stepped up on defense. With a runner on second, Williams misplayed a hard grounder up the middle. However, Pauly was able to reach the ball and threw the runner out at the plate to end the inning.
“We made some amazing plays this weekend,” Williams said. We’ve been working really hard on getting those plays, and it was incredible. It’s a complete momentum-changer.”
While NU’s pitching and defense rose to the occasion, the offense played out of character. The Cats managed only four runs in the two games, marking their fewest in any Big Ten series this year. Coming in averaging two home runs per game, NU did not hit a single long ball this weekend.
Monka was the only player in the lineup to produce offensively. On Friday, she knocked in sophomore Robin Thompson on a fielder’s choice, putting the Cats ahead 2-0 in the third. The next day, Monka broke a tie in the top of the seventh with a two-out double to centerfield.
“It was pretty big for us for that win and then having momentum going into the postseason,” said Monka of the game-winning hit on Saturday. “I was just relaxed up there. Just focused and ready to hit whatever the pitcher threw at me.”
Now, NU will turn its attention to the playoffs. The Cats learned Sunday that they will head to Waco, Texas as the No. 12 overall seed in the NCAA tournament. NU faces off against Texas State on Friday at 5 p.m., in a bracket that also includes host-school Baylor and Louisiana-Lafayette.
After struggling down the stretch, the weekend sweep over Wisconsin to close out the regular season gives NU confidence going into the postseason.
“I think, more importantly than the wins, it’s more about just getting back into our own rhythm of playing Northwestern softball,” Drohan said. “That’s what we saw this weekend.”