Softball: Wildcats sweep doubleheader with Illinois, climb up conference standings


Daily file photo by Allie Goulding

Krista Williams leads off second base. The senior outfielder and the Wildcats swept Illinois in a doubleheader Wednesday.

Evan Augeri, Reporter


Despite being all but eliminated from NCAA Tournament contention with three losses to Nebraska over the weekend, Northwestern won two hard-fought games in a doubleheader against in-state rival Illinois on Tuesday.

The Wildcats (22-27, 8-12 Big Ten) upset the Fighting Illini (35-15, 13-6) with a 7-4 victory in the first game and a 4-3 victory in the second game. The team played clean defense to back up strong pitching performances and scored its 11 runs with the help of aggressive baserunning and clutch hitting.

Sophomore pitcher Kaley Winegarner rebounded from a recent slump, going the distance and allowing only six hits in the first game. Senior Nicole Bond followed Winegarner’s performance with a complete game of her own, striking out just two but pitching to contact effectively.

“They did a nice job of challenging hitters when they needed to,” coach Kate Drohan said. “They went to some three-ball counts and really came back and battled (to) get some key outs. With the exception of the long balls in the first game, we did a good job of shutting down their RBI kids.”

NU was a perfect 6-for-6 on the basepaths in the two games. Junior outfielder Sabrina Rabin stole two more to increase her season total to 23, second in the Big Ten. The Cats lead the conference in stolen bases by a large margin, with 79 to date.

Drohan said an element of the team’s success against the Fighting Illini was that its athleticism translated to its defense, something that hadn’t necessarily happened much before.

“Our speed is our strength on the offensive side of the ball, but there have been times where I’ve felt like that speed is underutilized defensively,” Drohan said. “To see us execute the way we did today (on defense), it was key.”

After ranking near the bottom of the conference standings for the majority of its season, NU climbed up multiple spots with the two wins and now is tied for eighth place. As the Big Ten Tournament approaches, the Cats could finish close to or in the top half of the conference with wins against Iowa this weekend.

But NU preferred to focus on the excitement of beating Illinois, currently the Big Ten’s third ranked team. Winegarner said the doubleheader sweep was a great way for the team to conclude its home schedule.

“It felt great, especially coming against Illinois — they’re a great team,” Winegarner said. “It’s not only for this season, but it’s for the program in general and the university. Being able to do that and get two (wins), it’s big.”

Senior outfielder Krista Williams, who batted 3-of-6, scored two runs and stole two bases across the two games, agreed and said the momentum will be useful for the Cats as they aim for a strong finish to the season. NU will close its campaign at Iowa this weekend before the Big Ten Tournament next weekend.

“Our goal every year is to beat them, so that was awesome,” Williams said. “With the season we’ve been having, it was really important for us to get these wins going into Iowa and the Big Ten Tournament.”

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