Northwestern’s dominant season ended in the first leg of the NCAA Tournament after the team dropped two games in South Bend, Indiana.
The Wildcats (28-23) lost both their NCAA Regional bracket games — to Kentucky on Friday and No. 21 Notre Dame on Saturday.
Saturday’s game sealed the Cats’ fate after the Fighting Irish (42-15) had a huge 5-run second inning against senior pitcher Olivia Duehr, who entered in relief of junior Amy Letourneau.
But before that slide, NU first faced Kentucky (32-24) in a back-and-forth game that remained scoreless until the fourth inning. NU junior Kristen Wood battled Kentucky’s Kelsey Nunley on the mound, with both striking out batters left and right until the top of the fourth inning.
Kentucky struck first, scoring 2 runs in the bottom of the fourth, but NU rallied in the top of the fifth. With the bases loaded off of a Duehr single, a walk from Anna Edwards and a sacrifice bunt from freshman second baseman Brooke Marquez, senior outfielder Andrea DiPrima stepped to the plate with two outs. DiPrima hit a single to bring in 2 runs, and junior shortstop Andrea Filler and freshman catcher Sammy Nettling brought two more Cats home to bring the score to 4-2.
Even with the Cats’ fifth inning lead, Kentucky pulled away with a 5-4 win, scoring 2 more runs in the bottom of the fifth and 1 in the sixth.
Coach Kate Drohan said the Cats impressed her with their poise, despite the game’s outcome.
“Our players went in there with a very clear plan and had a lot of confidence in our plan,” she said. “They showed a lot of aggressiveness and put us in the position to win.”
Saturday’s contest ended with the Fighting Irish run-ruling the Cats 14-5 in five innings. After scoring 2 runs in the first inning, Notre Dame got an early grand slam in the second and tacked on another run to bring the to bring the score to 7-1.
The Notre Dame offense proved too much to handle, as it scored 7 more runs over the remaining three innings. A Fighting Irish error brought NU pinch runner Krista Williams home and a three-run homer from senior Julia Kuhn brought the score to 14-5, but the Cats added no more runs before the end of the fifth inning.
Drohan noted she was proud of her team’s ability to handle adversity, emphasizing the strong leadership of her four seniors: DiPrima, Duehr, Edwards and Kuhn.
“Our seniors got us going today, with big hits in RBI situations from Andrea and Julia,” she said. “Anna played really tough, Olivia has been the heart and soul of our team.”
Although the season didn’t end as hoped for the team, Drohan is already looking ahead to next year — especially with this season’s offensive dominance.
With centerfielder Sabrina Rabin, the Big Ten Freshman of the Year, returning alongside power hitters like Filler and Nettling, the Cats’ offense is sure to be stellar once again. Defensively, NU’s ace pitchers Wood and Letourneau will take the mound next year for their senior seasons, leaving Drohan optimistic about what’s to come.
“We’ll come back, regroup and make some adjustments,” she said. “The big focus will be on fundamentals. We’ve got some good work ahead.”
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