Softball: Northwestern sweeps Iowa, remains perfect in conference play

Kenna+Wilkey+takes+a+swing.+The+sophomore+drove+in+three+runs+in+Sunday%E2%80%99s+win+over+Iowa.

Daily file photo by Katie Pach

Kenna Wilkey takes a swing. The sophomore drove in three runs in Sunday’s win over Iowa.

Benjamin Rosenberg, Assistant Sports Editor


Softball


Another weekend, another sweep for Northwestern.

The Wildcats (25-7, 6-0 Big Ten) won all three games with relative ease in Iowa City against the Hawkeyes (15-15, 1-5), staying undefeated in conference play.

Freshman pitcher Danielle Williams did Danielle Williams things, throwing a one-hitter with 15 strikeouts in a 5-0 win Friday and a two-hitter with nine strikeouts in a 6-0 victory Sunday. Senior Kaley Winegarner and sophomore Kenna Wilkey combined to hold Iowa to three hits in Saturday’s 6-2 triumph.

“(Williams) and I pitch very differently,” Winegarner said. “She’s a rise ball pitcher and I’m more down in the zone. The lineup that the other team has sees different elements with both of us.”

Williams and Iowa ace Allison Doocy faced off in a pitchers’ duel Friday. The Cats struck first in the second inning on an infield hit by freshman catcher Jordyn Rudd, and that was the only run of the game until the seventh, when NU pulled away. The Cats scored four times in that inning, including two on a single by freshman shortstop Maeve Nelson.

Doocy started again for the Hawkeyes on Saturday, and this time NU jumped on her immediately for four first-inning runs. Sophomore second baseman Rachel Lewis led off the game with her ninth home run of the season. Freshman designated hitter Nikki Cuchran drove in two more with a double, and senior first baseman Lily Novak capped the frame with an RBI double of her own.

Winegarner pitched into the fifth, at which point Wilkey took over. The Hawkeyes pulled within two in the sixth, but the Cats tacked on a pair of insurance runs in the seventh to win comfortably.

“We’ve got really good balance throughout our lineup,” coach Kate Drohan said. “Rachel’s been doing a great job in the first inning. When she steps in the batter’s box and has a shot to hit a home run, you don’t even let a pitcher settle in. We really like starting the game with that.”

NU completed the sweep on Sunday behind another gem from Williams, who was named Big Ten Pitcher of the Week on Monday. The Cats opened the scoring in the second on a sacrifice fly by Wilkey, who was filling in at designated hitter. With the bases loaded in the fourth, Wilkey hit a single that led to three runs scoring, even though she was herself thrown out on the basepaths.

Nelson put the finishing touch on the win with a two-run homer in the seventh, her sixth long ball of the year. She finished the series 5-for-10 with four RBIs.

“It was just a matter of getting myself comfortable,” Nelson said. “I’m not always going to have the big hit, but I’m taking advantage of the pitches I’m given.”

The sweep allowed NU to get back on track after dropping a home game Wednesday to DePaul. The Cats led by four entering the sixth, only to see the Blue Demons score eight times in that inning to win 9-7.

Nevertheless, NU finished the month of March 14-4 and has won eight of its last nine. The Cats are tied for the Big Ten lead with Michigan and Minnesota.

“We have a lot to learn still,” Drohan said. “We learned a tough lesson Wednesday… We played really tough this weekend. Our team is starting to understand how hard it is to win three games in a weekend. I really liked our energy and our effort.”

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Twitter: @bxrosenberg

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