Softball: Northwestern makes two late comebacks, sweeps doubleheader at Illinois


Daily file photo by Lauren Duquette

Kenzie Ellis (left) fields the ball from the circle. The freshman pitcher tossed six innings in Thursday’s doubleheader nightcap.

Cole Paxton, Reporter


Northwestern played 12 unspectacular innings Wednesday, but two phenomenal ones more than made up for it.

The Wildcats (16-20, 7-4 Big Ten) rallied late to take game one over in-state rival Illinois, (23-17, 3-8) and then the team made another charge to take game two and earn a doubleheader sweep of the Fighting Illini in Champaign.

“These games were big for us for so many reasons,” coach Kate Drohan said. “For us to come from behind in both games the way we did, I just really like the process that our team is in right now. I feel like there’s a lot of real guts going into it, and that’s what I like to see.”

NU’s massive game-one seventh inning overshadowed some sloppy play early on. Trailing 6-4 upon entering the final frame, the Cats put runners on second and third with one out, and senior outfielder Fran Strub laced a first-pitch double to knot the score at 6.

Senior shortstop Andrea Filler drew a bases-loaded walk four batters later to give NU the lead, and senior pitcher Amy Letourneau followed suit with a walk of her own to give the Cats an 8-6 advantage. Sophomore designated player Sammy Nettling and junior first baseman Alcy Bush combined for 4 more RBIs as NU kept piling on en route to a 12-6 final score.

“I’m not really trying to think about the runners on base,” said Filler, who also drew a bases-loaded walk in the sixth. “I’m really just trying to trust my preparation and take one to the other side of the field so I give an opportunity for those runners to get in.”

In earlier innings, NU squandered several good opportunities to score. The Cats couldn’t score in the first despite having runners on first and second with no outs and left two runners in scoring position in the fourth.

NU also had a handful of defensive miscues. In the fifth, a two-out error by sophomore second baseman Brooke Marquez allowed Illinois to tie the game, and Letourneau, who pitched all seven innings, then struggled with her command. She issued a walk to load the bases and uncorked a pair of wild pitches that helped the Illini take a 5-3 lead.

“Even though we had our ups and downs and we spotted them some runs, we just knew that, ‘Hey, whether it’s the first inning or the seventh inning or we’re down or we’re up, we have the ability to finish this game,’” Nettling said.

The second game was less potent offensively, as each team scattered 3 runs and a handful of hits over the first five innings. Sophomore Nicole Evans appeared to put Illinois on firm footing with a solo home run off freshman pitcher Kenzie Ellis, putting the Illini up 4-3 in the sixth.

Just like in the first contest, however, the Cats made their mark in the seventh. Junior left fielder Krista Williams and sophomore centerfielder Sabrina Rabin each singled to begin the inning, and Filler drove them both home after a sacrifice bunt.

Letourneau then singled home Filler and earned the final three outs in the circle to secure the 6-4 win.

“It’s huge,” Drohan said of the late heroics in the first game carrying over into the second.

After starting Big Ten play 1-4, the Cats have won a season-high six straight games. NU now sits fifth in the 14-team conference and is closing on a .500 overall record.

In parallel with the team, a handful of players have reversed their fortunes as of late. Strub, whose double tied the score in the seventh inning of game one, has hit 4 of her 6 extra-base hits during the winning streak.

Ellis, who earned the win in game two, also has come on strong lately. She has lowered her ERA by more than a point in her last four appearances, and she picked up two wins and a save in last weekend’s series sweep of Iowa.

Several individuals, including Ellis, Filler and Strub, stood out Wednesday. Filler, however, brushed aside any personal victories and instead focused on the team’s overall success.

“It was totally a team effort today,” Filler said. “Every moment was a great moment for me personally but as a team, as a whole, we really stuck together and finished that game.”

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @ckpaxton