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Softball: Wildcats conclude season with Big Ten Tournament loss to Minnesota

Sophomore+Morgan+Nelson+crosses+the+plate.+Nelson+was+responsible+for+bringing+home+Northwestern%E2%80%99s+only+run+Friday+in+the+Big+Ten+Tournament+quarterfinal.+
Sophomore Morgan Nelson crosses the plate. Nelson was responsible for bringing home Northwestern’s only run Friday in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal.

Sophomore Morgan Nelson crosses the plate. Nelson was responsible for bringing home Northwestern’s only run Friday in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal.

Daily file photo by Allie Goulding

Daily file photo by Allie Goulding

Sophomore Morgan Nelson crosses the plate. Nelson was responsible for bringing home Northwestern’s only run Friday in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal.

Evan Augeri, Reporter

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Softball


Northwestern finished its season Friday with a 5-1 loss in the second round of the Big Ten Tournament to top-seeded Minnesota, the tournament’s eventual champion and owner of the nation’s best record.

The game was a pitcher’s duel up until the fifth inning, as senior pitcher Nicole Bond kept the score 2-0 through the first five innings. But the Gophers (54-3) eventually broke through with a pair of run-scoring singles in the sixth inning, increasing their lead to 5 runs and preventing the Wildcats (25-29) from rallying.

Despite allowing 10 hits and six walks in her five-plus innings, Bond stranded eight runners on base. Coach Kate Drohan said Bond’s effectiveness stemmed from that resilience.

“I thought she threw a great game … and pitched really tough,” Drohan said. “The runs that we did give up, I think there were some well-placed balls from Minnesota, but also some defensive plays that we didn’t make. The only way she could’ve improved her game (was) the number of walks she gave.”

It wasn’t the first time this season that Bond withstood a star-studded Gophers lineup, which led the conference with a .351 average and 7.5 runs scored per game. When the teams faced each other in the regular season, Bond pitched a complete game two-hitter in a losing effort.

She said the experience of battling the conference’s best team in the postseason was unforgettable, despite coming up short.

“I trusted myself to pound the zone, and allowed (Minnesota) to put the ball in play and let my team make the defensive plays, and they definitely did,” Bond said. “It was awesome, especially with such a great group of people behind me.”

Opposing Bond on the mound was Minnesota’s Sara Groenewegen, who stymied NU’s lineup with the first no-hitter in Big Ten Tournament history. Groenewegen allowed just two walks and struck out 11.

Groenewegen has a 0.59 ERA this season and was the winner of the tournament’s championship game, in which she struck out 12 to become Minnesota’s all-time strikeout leader.

Drohan commended Groenewegen’s poise and the success of her offspeed pitches.

“She has very good control … and great command of her changeup,” Drohan said. “We were chasing when she threw (the changeup) at a lower level, and that’s what made her so effective.”

The Cats did manage to score a run off of Groenewegen in the top of the seventh. Junior centerfielder Sabrina Rabin led off the inning with a walk, advanced to third on a groundout and subsequent wild pitch, and then scored on sophomore infielder Morgan Nelson’s sacrifice fly.

Though the rally came up short, Bond said the effort shown by the team demonstrates its true capabilities.

“Being able to do that in the seventh shows that we have the ability to do it in the first, second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth,” she said. “We need to take that seventh inning mentality into the beginning of next year, in every single game we play.”

The Cats now must look ahead to next season. The team is graduating three impactful student athletes — outfielder Anna Petersen, NU’s leading power hitter with six home runs and 14 doubles; outfielder Krista Williams, the team’s dependable two-hitter and second-best run-scorer; and first baseman Alcy Bush, the infield’s defensive anchor who was named to the Big Ten All-Defensive Team last week.

The offense will bear the brunt of Petersen and Bush’s departures especially. The pair hit more home runs (nine) than the rest of the Cats combined (five).

But Drohan expressed faith in her young pitchers and said those holes created by graduation can be filled as the remaining roster develops in the offseason.

“There were a lot of players who improved dramatically (this year), specifically our pitching staff,” Drohan said. “We need to get more power in our lineup; we’ll work on that through the offseason as we go.”

Email: evanaugeri2020@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @augerie

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