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Softball: Opportunistic Wildcats stay perfect in Big Ten with sweep of Nebraska

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Softball: Opportunistic Wildcats stay perfect in Big Ten with sweep of Nebraska

Rachel Lewis takes a swing. The sophomore hit two home runs in the Wildcats’ weekend sweep at Nebraska.

Rachel Lewis takes a swing. The sophomore hit two home runs in the Wildcats’ weekend sweep at Nebraska.

(Daily file photo by Katie Pach)

Rachel Lewis takes a swing. The sophomore hit two home runs in the Wildcats’ weekend sweep at Nebraska.

(Daily file photo by Katie Pach)

(Daily file photo by Katie Pach)

Rachel Lewis takes a swing. The sophomore hit two home runs in the Wildcats’ weekend sweep at Nebraska.

Benjamin Rosenberg, Assistant Sports Editor

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Great pitching combined with timely hitting typically leads to success.

Northwestern used that recipe to earn a third-straight weekend sweep, winning all three games against Nebraska in Lincoln. The Wildcats (29-7, 9-0 Big Ten) remain in a tie for the Big Ten lead and have now won seven in a row and 12 of their last 13.

“We weren’t perfect this weekend, but we were tough,” coach Kate Drohan said. “I really liked how we played like a team. We picked each other up, and we had some really clutch two-out hits.”

The weekend featured two more complete-game shutouts from freshman pitcher Danielle Williams, whose numbers in conference play are simply mind-boggling — one earned run in 39 innings pitched and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 15-to-1.

Williams shut down the Cornhuskers (13-22, 2-7) on Friday evening, striking out 10 without a walk and allowing just three hits in an 8-0 win. After a slow start, NU’s offense gave her plenty of support. Sophomore second baseman Rachel Lewis and freshman shortstop Maeve Nelson each homered during a four-run fifth inning, and senior first baseman Lily Novak was 2-for-4 with three RBIs.

After a slow start to the season, Lewis is hitting .333 with five home runs in nine conference games.

“I put in a lot of work outside of practice to try to get things right with my swing,” Lewis said. “Once I settled in and stopped worrying about the numbers, things started to happen for me.”

Saturday’s game was much closer than the 8-2 final score would indicate, as the game turned on a few key moments. Nebraska loaded the bases with one out in the first, but sophomore pitcher Kenna Wilkey escaped the inning without allowing a run.

When the Cats loaded the bases themselves in the third, they would not come away similarly disappointed. Freshman designated hitter Nikki Cuchran cranked a grand slam over the right-field wall, and suddenly NU had a 4-0 lead.

“It was a good, timely hit,” Cuchran said. “We want to take advantage of what the pitcher and the other team is giving us. We do a good job taking advantage of the other team’s mistakes.”

With the Cats up 5-1 in the fifth, Wilkey pulled another escape act, striking out three-straight batters to get out of a bases-loaded, nobody-out jam. Lewis then hit a two-run dinger in the sixth to put the game out of reach.

Williams was dominant again Sunday, this time allowing only one hit and striking out 12 in a 4-0 NU victory. Freshman center fielder Skyler Shellmyer hit an RBI single in the second to get the scoring started, and Novak, with the bases loaded and two outs in the third, dumped a single into right to drive in two more. Williams helped her own cause with a run-scoring single in the fifth to account for the final tally.

The Cats finally had a successful weekend in a venue that until this season was a house of horrors for them — NU had been just 1-10 at Nebraska’s Bowlin Stadium since the Cornhuskers joined the conference in 2012.

“It’s no secret what our history is in that stadium,” Drohan said. “We just attacked it head-on and we said, ‘It’s time to make some new memories here.’ Even from when we practiced there Thursday night, it definitely felt different. There was a lot of confidence coming from our team.”

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

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