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Softball: Northwestern wins 3 of 4 at ACC/Big Ten Challenge on late comebacks

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Softball: Northwestern wins 3 of 4 at ACC/Big Ten Challenge on late comebacks

Lily Novak settles in at the plate. The Cats went 3-1 this weekend at the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Lily Novak settles in at the plate. The Cats went 3-1 this weekend at the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Lily Novak settles in at the plate. The Cats went 3-1 this weekend at the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Lily Novak settles in at the plate. The Cats went 3-1 this weekend at the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.

Benjamin Rosenberg, Assistant Sports Editor

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Last season, Northwestern developed a habit of coming from behind late. Five times, the Wildcats trailed by multiple runs entering the seventh inning and won.

NU (7-2) is starting to establish a similar identity this year. In the first game of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Friday in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the Cats trailed Louisville 8-3 in the seventh and turned it into a win. NU tied it with five runs in the seventh before a go-ahead blast from freshman shortstop Maeve Nelson — the first of her career — in the ninth gave the Cats a 9-8 victory.

“Their poise in that moment and their will to win is what made that happen,” coach Kate Drohan said. “Nobody tried to do it by themselves; it’s just about passing the bat. It’s really a product of last year. Once a team learns how to (come back), then that becomes the mentality. We just feel like we’re never out of a ball game.”

The dramatic win helped propel the Cats to a 3-1 record against the Cardinals (4-5) and host Tar Heels (5-3).

NU beat North Carolina 9-3 on Friday evening. Senior left fielder Morgan Nelson opened the scoring with a solo homer in the first inning, and junior pitcher Morgan Newport extended the lead to 5-0 with a two-run shot in the third. The Cats broke it open in the seventh on a bases-clearing double by freshman catcher Jordyn Rudd and an RBI triple from freshman designated hitter Nikki Cuchran.

North Carolina came back on Saturday to shut out NU 5-0 behind star pitcher Brittany Pickett, who threw a four-hit shutout. Sophomore pitcher Kenna Wilkey and Newport were both solid in the circle, but the Cats’ defense made four errors and kept giving the Tar Heels extra outs.

“(Wilkey) had a very good start to the game, and Newport’s been doing a heck of a job coming in relief,” Drohan said. “It’s our defense that needs to step up for them. That’s how that game got away from us — it was our defensive miscues.”

NU rebounded on Sunday to beat the Cardinals 4-2 to close out the weekend. Freshman pitcher Danielle Williams had a shaky first inning, loading the bases with nobody out, but got out of the jam with just one unearned run scoring. She was excellent the rest of the way, and even helped her own cause with a two-run double in the second to give the Cats the lead they would never relinquish.

NU added an insurance run in the third on an RBI double by Cuchran, and another in the fifth on a run-scoring single by senior first baseman Lily Novak. Louisville brought the go-ahead run to the plate in the seventh, but Williams retired Celene Funke on a fly to left to close out the win.

“We’re learning about how to control momentum during the game,” Drohan said. “We have created a long list of what we need to do this week in practice. We need to shore up different parts of our game, and I like our motivation for that.”

Email: benjaminrosenberg2021@u.northwestern.edu
Twitter: @bxrosenberg

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