Softball: Northwestern finishes regular season strong with Iowa series win


Daily file photo by Allie Goulding

Marissa Panko runs the bases. The junior infielder and the Wildcats closed the regular season with a series win at Iowa.

Ronald Kim, Reporter


Fresh off a doubleheader sweep of local Big Ten rival Illinois, Northwestern hoped to continue its newfound momentum over the weekend in its final series of the regular season against Iowa.

Sophomore pitcher Kaley Winegarner and the so-called “Conehead Line” of junior outfielder Sabrina Rabin, senior outfielder Krista Williams and junior infielder Marissa Panko helped the Wildcats (24-28, 10-13 Big Ten) do exactly that in a series win against the Hawkeyes (19-31, 9-14).

Winegarner struggled out of the gate in the opener, being tagged for four hits and 2 earned runs in the first inning. But she settled down to toss a complete game win, giving up just three hits in the last 6 innings and at one point retiring 10 consecutive hitters.

“Kaley is a competitor,” coach Kate Drohan said. “She’s really understanding and learning how to win. … She comes up with big pitches when her team needs them.”

Panko especially came up big, going 2-for-3 with two RBIs, leading the offense to five runs in a 5-2 win.

“I love having two lefties hit before me because they relay information back to me, such as what pitches they see and what to look for from a certain pitcher,” Panko said. “Having my teammates in scoring position allowed me to be in timely situations, so it wasn’t just me; it was also everyone who hit before me.”

In game two, NU and Iowa grinded it out in an 11-inning, back-and-forth battle. The Cats took an early 3-1 lead but let the Hawkeyes back into the game by committing two costly errors that led to 4 runs in the fifth. Down 5-3, NU stormed back in the sixth with 3 more runs, taking a 6-5 lead with just an inning to go.

But the Cats couldn’t close it out and allowed the Hawkeyes to tie the game at 6 in the seventh, forcing extras. Iowa eventually went on to win in the 11th, 7-6.

In Sunday’s rubber match, Winegarner led the way for NU with another commanding complete game performance. She surrendered just 2 earned runs, scattering five hits and walking only one en route to a well-deserved win. The sophomore improved to 8-6 on the year with a 2.98 ERA.

The Cats’ offense featured a balanced attack, with four different batters recording two hits each. Rabin, one of those four, continued her solid performance in the series as NU’s leadoff hitter, going 2-for-4 with two runs scored and a stolen base.

“I just relied on the people behind me to help manufacture runs, so they did their job too,” Rabin said. “It was definitely a group performance, because I wouldn’t have been able to score those runs without people hitting (sacrifice) flies and contributing.”

The Cats’ well-rounded performance earned them a 5-2 victory in game three that ended the regular season on a winning note and secured the series win.

With the Big Ten Tournament looming, NU will look to sustain its recent string of strong hitting and pitching. But to win consistently, Drohan stressed the need for the team to fine tune its defense.

“Our team has had success when we play really good defense — that’s been the difference,” Drohan said. “That was why we won on Friday and Sunday and why we lost on Saturday. … That continues to be the most important point we’re making with the team.”

Email: [email protected]