Softball: Northwestern’s season ends after two losses in Lexington Regional

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Daily file photo by Joshua Hoffman

Maeve Nelson attempts to turn a double play. Nelson’s home run opened the scoring against Kentucky on Friday.

Nathan Ansell, Reporter


Softball


Northwestern couldn’t replicate last year’s hot start in the NCAA Tournament this weekend. Up against No. 14 Kentucky at the Lexington Regional, the Wildcats lost twice and exited the postseason early. 

NU (30-17, 29-15 Big Ten) lost 3-2 when they first met Kentucky (41-14, 13-11 SEC) on Friday. Junior shortstop Maeve Nelson’s home run to deep left got NU on the scoreboard first, but Kentucky produced a three-run second inning to climb on top 3-1, and they would hold that lead for the rest of the game.

Senior third baseman Mac Dunlap drove in a run to provide some hope in the seventh inning, but despite the late rally, the Cats still came up short. With the tying run on base, junior center fielder Skyler Shellmyer grounded out to conclude the contest. 

“It was a tough game, back and forth,” coach Kate Drohan said.

NU made several small mistakes. An obstruction call at the plate allowed Kentucky to take the lead after Shellmyer’s throw beat the runner, a wild pitch in the fourth inning put two Kentucky players in scoring position, and graduate pinch-runner Emma Bartz stepped off the base after a sacrifice bunt for an easy second out.

“We’re not going to be upset about it,” Nelson said after the game. “It didn’t go our way, and we’re going to use that to keep going.”

The Cats certainly kept going in their next game against Miami-Ohio (46-10, 36-2 MAC). Facing elimination, NU shook off a first-inning home run by RedHawks designated player Allie Cummins and coasted to a 7-1 victory behind a strong outing from junior pitcher Danielle Williams.

In the second inning, Dunlap cranked a bases-clearing double to put the Cats in front. Neither team could generate any offense for the next two frames, but with the bases loaded, junior first baseman Nikki Cuchran seized the opportunity. With two outs, she blasted an 0-1 pitch over the center field wall, picking up her first home run — and grand slam — of the season.

“Nikki Cuchran likes the spotlight,” Drohan said. “She likes it when the game’s on the line.”

The win set up a rematch with Kentucky later that day. Playing less than 45 minutes after competing against Miami-Ohio, a fatigued NU struggled to get a hold on the game, particularly from the pitcher’s circle. Once again, Kentucky had a shutdown performance in the field. 

Dunlap gave the Cats an early lead with a sacrifice fly, but it was all Kentucky after that. The team scored multiple runs in each of the third, fifth and sixth innings, while graduate utility player Morgan Newport’s one-run groundout wasn’t enough to impact a 7-2 loss.

Drohan tried multiple pitchers throughout the game. Freshman Lauren Boyd left in the fourth inning for Newport, whom Williams replaced shortly after. Despite having pitched the entirety of the first two games, Williams managed to finish the game for the Cats.

“(Williams) did such a great job today,” Shellmyer said. “I thought she put in a lot of work for us, and I’m really proud of her.”

The loss capped off NU’s 2021 campaign, a marked improvement from the pandemic-shortened 2020, when the Cats finished with a losing record of 11-12.

With seven starters guaranteed to return and senior second baseman Rachel Lewis likely using her additional year of eligibility, Drohan has reasons to be optimistic for next year.

“As women, as student-athletes, as college students, people in athletics, there are a lot of twists and turns to the year,” Drohan said. “I’m really proud of the way our team handled those moments.”

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Twitter: @NathanJAnsell

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