Softball: Morgan Newport helps Northwestern win series over Nebraska, reach NCAA Tournament

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Kelsey Carroll/The Daily Northwestern

Morgan Newport is all smiles after hitting a home run against Nebraska on Friday. Newport helped the Wildcats win three out of four and secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

Benjamin Rosenberg, Senior Staffer


Softball


Morgan Newport wouldn’t have wanted it to end any other way.

The ball was in the fifth-year senior’s left hand on Sunday afternoon as she tried to preserve a Senior Day victory. With a one-run lead, two outs and a 2-2 count on Nebraska’s Peyton Glatter, Newport went with her best pitch — the changeup.

Swing and a miss. Game over.

“When I got to that seventh inning, I got the top of the lineup up to bat, some really great hitters,” Newport said. “I just tried to focus on one pitch at a time and not make it bigger than it was. That approach really helped.”

Northwestern (29-15, 29-15 Big Ten) held on for a 6-5 win, taking three of four from the visiting Cornhuskers (22-22, 22-22 Big Ten). The series win was the Wildcats’ first in their last four tries, as they rebounded from a 7-12 stretch following an incredible 18-2 start. 

The finish was just enough to secure an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, where NU will head to Lexington, Kentucky to take on No. 14 seed Kentucky on Friday. 

Leading the way against Nebraska, as has been the case all year, was the versatile veteran from DeKalb, Illinois.

Newport set the tone for the weekend in Friday’s opener, blasting a home run well over the right-field fence to lead off the second inning. The long ball opened the scoring for NU and ignited a five-run rally, which was more than enough for junior pitcher Danielle Williams to secure a 6-1 victory. It was also the first run Nebraska pitcher Courtney Wallace had allowed in her last 20 innings.

“What I’ve seen recently is that she’s done a great job holding her zone,” coach Kate Drohan said. “Even borderline strikes that are called against her, she’s really hunting for the pitch that she wants, and that’s been the biggest difference for her.”

NU tallied five runs in the second again in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader, but this time, Newport capped the rally rather than starting it. With the Cats already up by three and the bases loaded, she laced a liner into left-center for a two-run double, taking all the drama out of a 9-1, run-rule shortened win.

In the last two games, Newport did not get out once. During Saturday’s nightcap — a 5-4 loss — she walked twice and delivered a run-scoring single. But she saved her best for last on Sunday.

Newport singled to lead off the second and came around to score, but she was just getting started. With the game tied in the bottom of the third, she unloaded on a 2-1 offering from Cornhuskers pitcher Olivia Ferrell and launched it over the video board just to the right of straightaway center for a two-run shot.

She added another single in the sixth and finished the regular season second in the Big Ten with 38 RBIs and tied for third with 10 homers. 

Newport was not at her best in the circle Sunday, giving up five runs on 11 hits, but she struck out seven and did not issue a walk. She got a big-time assist from junior center fielder Skyler Shellmyer following a leadoff double in the third, when Shellmyer made a running catch on a sinking liner and doubled off the runner.

And now, she will have at least one more opportunity to build on an impressive final chapter to her career.

“The feeling of this team is we have something to prove, in a really good way,” Newport said. “We’re going to show you how Northwestern softball plays. This team has earned every part of this and I’m really looking forward to it.”

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Twitter: @bxrosenberg

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