Softball: Cats clipped in Columbus, fail to qualify for NCAAs for first time since 2002

Colin Becht

On Sunday night, the Northwestern players and coaches gathered around a television in Anderson Hall to watch the NCAA tournament selection show. For the first time since 2002, the Wildcats did not hear their name called.

NU (25-23, 10-8 Big Ten) finished the regular season in fourth place in the Big Ten but did not receive one of the 34 at-large bids to the NCAA tournament.

“It’s pretty devastating,” junior designated player Michelle Batts said. “It’s tough to lose everything you’ve worked for by the voice of someone else. Our season was over not on the field but sitting in a room.”

The Cats entered the final weekend of regular season play on the bubble, likely needing one win to shore up an eighth straight tournament berth. But No. 19 Ohio State (37-12, 16-2) swept NU in their two-game series, 9-6 and 16-0.

In a weekend uncharacteristic of their season, the Cats were derailed by poor defense. NU committed seven errors over the two games, resulting in 12 unearned runs for the Buckeyes.

“Unfortunately we made a lot of mistakes that cost a lot of runs,” senior infielder Nicole Pauly said. “Ohio State took advantage of our errors and they made us pay.”

Already trailing 7-1 on Friday, the Cats dug themselves into a deeper hole in the fourth inning. With two outs and a runner on second, a groundball to junior infielder Robin Thompson that would have ended the inning instead resulted in a run for Ohio State.

Given new life, the Buckeyes tacked on another run with a double off pitcher Meghan Lamberth. While the two runs seemed insignificant at the time, the Cats’ five-run comeback over the final three frames proved how valuable those insurance runs were.

Freshmen Emily Allard and Kristin Scharkey each drove home runners on groundouts while junior leftfielder Jordan Wheeler singled in two more runs, but the Cats were unable to catch the Buckeyes.

NU’s defense collapsed Saturday, committing five errors that led to 10 unearned runs. Behind 2-0 in the second inning, senior pitcher Lauren Delaney got a comebacker with two outs that would have ended inning. Instead Delaney threw the ball away, allowing the frame to continue. Just as they did Friday, the Buckeyes capitalized on the extra life and drove in two runs.

In the third, the Cats committed three more errors and Ohio State blew the game open with nine runs, eight of them unearned. After getting to Ohio State pitcher Megan Miller for five runs and nine hits in four innings of relief Friday, the Cats’ bats were silenced Saturday. Miller threw 4.1 of the five innings of the run-rule shortened game, allowing just two hits and no runs.

“We just left our zone,” Batts said. “We were pushing a little bit too hard to get a run across. … We left our plan that we had been working towards the entire year, which was to stay in our zone and swing at the right pitches.”[email protected]