Softball: Northwestern falls to Georgia in final round of Athens Regional


Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Rachel Lewis takes a swing. Lewis hit a game-tying double in the seventh inning of Saturday’s elimination-game win over California, but the Wildcats were still eliminated Sunday by Georgia.

Benjamin Rosenberg, Reporter

Northwestern’s best season in 10 years ended Sunday with a loss to No. 7 Georgia in the final round of the Athens Regional. After a pair of dramatic wins Friday and Saturday over California, the Wildcats fell just short against the Bulldogs.

NU (38-19, 14-8 Big Ten) defeated Cal (35-21, 7-16 Pac-12) 3-2 in eight innings in Friday’s opening round.

The game was scoreless until the fifth inning, when the Cats struck for a pair of runs on an RBI triple by junior left fielder Morgan Nelson and a perfectly executed squeeze bunt by senior catcher Sammy Nettling.

The Golden Bears tied it with two runs in their half of the fifth, but freshman pitcher Kenna Wilkey escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the bottom of the seventh to send the game to extras. Wilkey then drove in the go-ahead run in the eighth before throwing a perfect bottom half to complete the victory.

“I wasn’t thinking too far ahead,” Wilkey said. “I knew my defense had me. It always feels great when you can help your team in both (the plate and the circle).”

In the first round winners’ game on Saturday, NU was beaten 12-0 by host Georgia (46-11, 16-8 SEC) in a game that ended after six innings due to the run rule. Bulldogs shortstop Alyssa DiCarlo had a monster day at the plate, hitting 3 home runs and driving in six. The loss meant the Cats were one game from elimination and would have to beat Georgia twice on Sunday should they advance to the regional final.

And advance NU did, picking up one of its most thrilling victories in a season full of them on Saturday evening. The Cats nursed a 1-0 lead into the sixth, when illegal pitches finally started to hurt NU’s staff. Cal rallied for 2 runs in the sixth and another in the seventh, leaving the Cats down to their final three outs.

With one out in the NU seventh, junior first baseman Lily Novak singled and senior center fielder Sabrina Rabin reached on an error. That set the stage for freshman second baseman Rachel Lewis, the Big Ten RBI leader. Lewis delivered a two-run double to left-center to send across the tying runs.

Later in the inning, with the bases loaded and two outs, Lewis scampered home on a wild pitch to give the Cats a stunning 4-3 win and extend their season another day.

“(Coach) Kate (Drohan) was telling me to go on anything, so I was really ready,” Lewis said. “I saw it break, and it actually took a big bounce back, so it was a closer play than I expected it to be, but I just went for it.”

But NU dropped a back-and-forth, 9-7 decision Sunday to the Bulldogs, ending the Cats’ season.

After falling behind 2-0, NU rallied for 4 runs in the third, with a two-run single by Nelson giving the Cats the lead. Georgia’s offense, however, was too much. The Bulldogs touched Wilkey for a pair of two-run homers in the fourth inning to go up 7-4, and after NU pulled within one in the fifth, Georgia tacked on two insurance runs in the sixth for a 9-6 lead.

With the Cats one out from elimination, senior shortstop Marissa Panko hit NU’s first home run since May 4 to keep her team alive, but Wilkey, hitting next, struck out swinging to end it.

“I’m really proud of this group of young women, not only for the way we fought this weekend, but also their body of work the whole season,” Drohan said. “Today was a battle, and we gave it everything we had.”

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