Softball: Northwestern extends winning streak to 16 with doubleheader sweep of Illinois


Daily file photo by Andrew Golden

Danielle Williams steps up to the plate. The freshman hit her second home run of the season against Illinois on Tuesday.

Benjamin Rosenberg, Assistant Sports Editor

It doesn’t matter if the game is lopsided or tight. Northwestern just keeps finding ways to win.

The No. 21 Wildcats (38-7, 17-0 Big Ten) blew out Illinois 8-0 in the opener of Tuesday’s doubleheader, but were clinging to a 4-2 lead in the seventh inning of the second game. Junior Morgan Newport, pitching in relief of freshman Danielle Williams, put the first two Fighting Illini (27-19, 6-11) on base before retiring the next three to nail down the win.

“We like the lefty matchup against their team,” coach Kate Drohan said. “We knew were going to go heavy with our lefties today. She’s really tough in that situation, so we had a lot of confidence in her.”

Williams pitched the first 10 innings of the day before Newport took over for the final two. The freshman threw a five-inning shutout in the first game, which was shortened by the run rule because NU’s offense jumped on Illinois’ pitching staff.

Sophomore second baseman Rachel Lewis singled and senior left fielder Morgan Nelson walked to lead off the first inning. A double steal put the runners at second and third before Lewis scored on an infield grounder. The Cats added two more in the inning when senior first baseman Lily Novak reached on an error to make it 3-0.

NU then put on a power display to break the game open. Williams proved she can do more than just pitch with a two-run, opposite-field homer in the third, and a two-run blast by freshman shortstop Maeve Nelson and a solo shot by freshman catcher Jordyn Rudd in the fourth accounted for the final margin. Williams took care of the rest, giving up four hits without a walk and striking out nine.

After throwing just 74 pitches in the opener, Williams started the second game as well, holding Illinois scoreless for the first three innings. The Cats’ offense took a bit longer to get going than in the first game, but NU would only need one big swing to win.

That swing came in the bottom of the third. The Cats loaded the bases with nobody out and the heart of the order coming up, but Fighting Illini ace Sydney Sickels came back to strike out both Maeve Nelson and freshman designated hitter Nikki Cuchran. Rudd, however, would not suffer a similar fate. Facing a 1-2 count, she turned on a Sickels offering and launched it over the center-field wall for a grand slam, and suddenly NU led by four.

“The one big thing about our team is we have each other’s back,” Rudd said. “So when two of them didn’t do as well they wanted, I knew I could be there and help out. She laid it a little too high, so it worked out pretty well.”

Illinois finally broke through against Williams for two runs in the fourth, but Williams came back with a perfect fifth. With the meat of the Fighting Illini lineup coming up in the sixth, Drohan turned to Newport, who got through Illinois’ toughest hitters without much trouble before working out of the seventh-inning jam.

The win was the Cats’ 16th in a row, their longest streak since 1985, and they lead the Big Ten by one game over Michigan with six games remaining.

“Today was strictly about the matchup,” Drohan said. “Danielle’s having a heck of a season, but we have a great staff behind her.”

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Twitter: @bxrosenberg

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