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

Benjamin Rosenberg, Assistant Sports Editor


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.”

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Twitter: @bxrosenberg

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