Softball: Wildcats top Spartans in Big Ten Tournament first round


Brian Lee/Daily Senior Staffer

Senior catcher Paige Tonz comes home to an excited mob of teammates after smacking a grand slam in Thursday’s win over Michigan State. Northwestern used 6 fifth-inning runs to win 10-4 in the first-ever night game at Sharon J. Drysdale Field.

Josh Walfish, Reporter

Paige Tonz has found the clutch gene this season.

The senior catcher had not hit better than .200 in any of her first three seasons at Northwestern, but entered Thursday’s game hitting above .300 and had come up big at the plate at crucial times. She had a walk-off hit April 20 against Indiana and Thursday, in the first night game in Sharon J. Drysdale Field’s history, Tonz had another clutch hit, throttling a full-count fastball over the right centerfield fence for a grand slam to cap a 6-run fifth inning for the Wildcats.

That was all the insurance NU (33-15) would need to stop Michigan State (12-37) 10-4 in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament.

“It’s all mental,” the senior catcher said of her improvement at the plate. “I worked really hard in the offseason and came in and got my reps, but it was really figuring out what was going on in my head.”

The grand slam came when NU needed some life the most. The Cats gave up a grand slam to Sarah Bowling in the top of the fifth and trailed 4-3 entering the bottom half of the frame. Senior Emily Allard dropped a blooper over the Michigan State infield and promptly stole second and third. That would start a rally that would last 11 batters and produce the 6 runs necessary to break the game wide open.

“Our running game was a big part of our game plan,” coach Kate Drohan said. “Allard’s been a spark for us her entire career here. She did a great job putting the ball in play and then did her thing getting to second and third. At that point, we really turned a corner offensively.”

As good as the offense was, the pitching struggled under the lights. Sophomore Kristen Wood and freshman Nicole Bond combined to only give up four hits, but issued nine walks and left themselves in precarious situations. The Spartans stranded 11 runners, including twice leaving the bases loaded.

Michigan State coach Jacquie Joseph said the missed opportunities ultimately cost the Spartans the game. She gave credit to NU for capitalizing on those types of situations but was disappointed her team could not drive in runs aside from the grand slam.

NU struck first when Andrea Filler launched a shot over the fence to stake NU to a 3-0 lead. The sophomore designated player ended the day 2-for-3 from the plate, with five RBI and two runs of her own. She said the night-game atmosphere helped her at the plate.

“Any chance we get to have a night game at our field, it’s super exciting,” Filler said. “At night, I feel like I see the ball a little bit better so I just got in the box, was really excited to be up there and felt comfortable in the box.”

The Cats move on to face No. 4 seed Wisconsin in the quarterfinals Friday night.

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