Softball: No. 22 Cats drop four to unranked Minnesota, falls to third in Big Ten


Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

Danielle Williams prepares to fire a pitch to the plate. The pitcher and utility player struck out 17 in two appearances during the series.

Lawrence Price and Nathan Ansell


Despite kicking off April with a series win over Maryland, No. 22 Northwestern took a step backwards this weekend.

Minnesota (19-5, 19-5 Big Ten) pulled off a 4-0 sweep against the Wildcats (18-6, 18-6 Big Ten), who fell to third in the Big Ten standings. Meanwhile, the Golden Gophers — who became the first team to sweep NU in nearly four years — moved up to second place.

“They’re a quality team,” junior catcher Jordyn Rudd said about Minnesota. “They have a lot of good hitters and a lot of good pitchers. And I think we just struggled a little this weekend with their hitting.”

The series’ first game Friday developed into a pitching duel between junior pitcher Danielle Williams and the Golden Gophers’ Amber Fiser — who together allowed only 9 combined hits.

Home runs from Minnesota center fielder Natalie DenHartog and her teammate, second baseman Makenna Partain, gave the Golden Gophers a 2-0 lead in the sixth inning. At the bottom of the inning, Minnesota looked to be in control as the Cats — with two outs — sent graduate utility player Morgan Newport to the plate. Instead, Newport put NU on the board with a two-run shot to right-center field to tie the game.

“I had a lot of at-bats off that pitcher — she’s my age, we are both fifth years,” Newport said. “In my head, I said, ‘I am not going to let her beat me,’ and I think that really helped keep my two-strike approach, even when I got behind in the count.”

The game went into extra innings and concluded in the 10th when Golden Gopher first baseman Sydney Strelow hit a ground ball to bring home pinch runner Chloe Evans and give Minnesota a 3-2 victory.

On Saturday, the Cats struggled early, as the Golden Gophers took an early 4-0 lead against sophomore pitcher Sydney Supple. NU responded in the bottom of the second inning with a two-run home run from junior shortstop Maeve Nelson, but the Cats only collected two hits for the rest of the game and lost 6-2.

“They are very disciplined, they come in with a plan and they’re excellent at executing it,” Newport. “We missed a lot of chances that we didn’t take advantage of, and when you face a good team like that, it really comes down to who can execute.”

The first of Sunday’s matches, rescheduled from Saturday because of rain, was another low-scoring affair — both teams allowed just three runs and 13 hits combined. Minnesota pinch hitter Delanie Cox eventually scored the game-winning run in the 8th inning when she launched a pitch from Williams over the left field wall, giving the Golden Gophers three straight victories.

“Knowing that we had to shut their run game down was huge,” Rudd said. “I was ready every pitch in case someone would (run).”

The afternoon game included much more offense, as DenHartog — the conference’s leader in home runs — recorded her eighth homer of the season with a three-run shot to left-center field, one of three three-run homers for Minnesota. Even though Rudd and senior second baseman Rachel Lewis each cleared the fence for NU, it wasn’t enough, as the Cats fell 10-4.

NU had issues with putting hits together during the series, as 30 runners were left on base throughout the weekend. Ten were stranded in the opener alone.

The Cats will head back on the road to face Iowa next weekend in an attempt to bounce back from the series sweep.

“I thought we played great this weekend — it just didn’t fall our way a couple times,” said junior center fielder Skyler Shellmyer, an Iowa native. “I am ready to kick some butt.”
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