Softball: Offense silenced as Northwestern drops series, falls short of Big Ten title


Daily file photo by Andrew Golden

Danielle Williams begins her windup. The freshman threw a shutout Friday, but struggled Saturday and Sunday as the Wildcats lost the series in Minnesota.

Benjamin Rosenberg, Assistant Sports Editor


For all of Northwestern’s accomplishments this year — a 20-game winning streak, a perfect month of April, the program’s highest win total since 2007 — the Wildcats still fell short of a Big Ten title.

No. 19 NU (42-9, 21-2 Big Ten) was held to just one run on four hits over three games as No. 13 Minnesota (39-11, 20-2) won two of three at home. No. 22 Michigan’s sweep at Maryland gave the Wolverines the championship.

Golden Gophers pitcher Amber Fiser dominated every time she was in the circle, despite dropping a 1-0 decision Friday. She came in from the bullpen to shut down NU on Saturday, then took a no-hitter into the seventh inning Sunday before settling for a one-hit shutout.

“She’s not just a hard thrower,” Northwestern senior left fielder Morgan Nelson said. “She’s switching up speeds. We’re a little bit off on certain pitches. That comes from being a little bit doubtful in the box, being a little bit indecisive.”

The series opener was a classic duel between the two best pitchers in the conference — Fiser and Cats freshman Danielle Williams. Both had to work out of trouble in the first inning before settling in, and the game remained scoreless into the seventh, when NU was finally able to manufacture a run.

Freshman shortstop Maeve Nelson drew a one-out walk, and freshman designated hitter Nikki Cuchran hit a line drive to left field that dropped just inside the foul line for a double, putting runners at second and third. Then, with a steady rain falling, Fiser uncorked a wild pitch, allowing Nelson to cross home plate.

The rain then forced the umpires to delay the game for about 90 minutes before Williams came back out to put the finishing touch on the Cats’ 20th-straight victory.

But Minnesota came back with a vengeance Saturday, scoring three in the first against Williams. The Golden Gophers’ onslaught continued against the Cats’ bullpen, as Minnesota scored three more in the fourth and two in the fifth for an 8-0, run-rule victory.

NU’s best chance to get back in the game came in the third, when the Cats loaded the bases with one out against Sydney Smith. But Fiser entered and struck out both freshman catcher Jordyn Rudd and junior Morgan Newport to escape, and NU never threatened again.

“They scored early, and that’s something that they’ve had a lot of success with the whole year,” coach Kate Drohan said. “When you give Fiser the lead, she’s pretty tough.”

Michigan’s win Sunday put the Cats in must-win territory to earn a share of the title, but the Golden Gophers were not about to let NU celebrate on their field. They scored a run in the first, another in the second and two more in the third against the Cats’ freshman ace en route to a 4-0 triumph.

Senior pitcher Kaley Winegarner and junior Morgan Newport held Minnesota scoreless the rest of the way, but Fiser was simply untouchable. She mowed down NU’s lineup time and time again, not allowing a hit until Morgan Nelson’s infield single leadoff the seventh. Fiser set down the next three hitters to give her team the series win.

The Cats will be the No. 2 seed in next week’s Big Ten Tournament in Bloomington, Indiana, and will face either host and seventh-seed Indiana or 10th-seed Penn State in a Friday quarterfinal, with a potential rematch with the Golden Gophers looming in the semifinals.

“This series taught us so many things, from the crowd to how to face a dominating pitcher to our freshmen dealing with being on national television,” Drohan said. “Really helpful experience for us. I just wish we could have played more like us.”

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