Softball: Strong pitching and freshman firepower lift No. 19 Northwestern to Big Ten quarterfinal victory


Daily file Photo by Mary Randolph

Kelsey Nader swings at a pitch at Sharon J. Drysdale Field. Nader was a key contributor in the Wildcats’ 3-1 victory over Iowa in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal game, driving in all three of NU’s runs.

Rachel Schlueter, Reporter

No. 19 Northwestern (36-11, 20-3 Big Ten) defeated Iowa (31-27, 10-13 Big Ten) 3-1 in the quarterfinal matchup of the Big Ten Tournament on Thursday.

Hunting for its first Big Ten Tournament title since 2008 after falling short in the semifinals last year, NU has proven to be a strong contender for the championship trophy.

Junior pitcher Lauren Boyd, who sported the top ERA (2.03) on the Cats’ pitching staff during the regular season, started on the mound for NU. After allowing four earned runs in her most recent outing, Boyd saw Thursday’s matchup against the Hawkeyes as a chance to bounce back.

The Cats struck first in the bottom of the second, thanks to a two-out RBI single from freshman outfielder Kelsey Nader. Earlier this week, Nader was named to the All-Big Ten freshman team alongside infielder Kansas Robinson. The outfielder ended the regular season with a .310 batting average — fourth on the team.

In the bottom of the fourth, graduate student infielder Nikki Cuchran and senior utility Angela Zedak each got on base with singles. Nader, continuing her display of offensive prowess, knocked Cuchran and Zedak in with a two-RBI triple to right center field, bringing the score to 3-0 with her first triple of the season.

The Hawkeyes notched their first run of the game in the top of the fifth inning when Boyd walked a batter with the bases loaded. But, the right-handed pitcher remained composed in the circle and finished the inning stranding the other three runners and allowing just one total run for the game.

Zedak was also a significant contributor to getting the Cats out of the fifth inning jam. With two outs and the bases loaded, she maintained the outfield as a no-fly zone, making a diving catch to end the inning.

In the later innings, NU turned to graduate pitcher Danielle Williams to seal the deal. The First Team All-Big Ten selection threw back-to-back scoreless innings in the sixth and seventh. Boyd picked up her first postseason win of the year, throwing three strikeouts while allowing four hits and one run.

The Cats offense was primarily fueled by the bottom half of the lineup on Thursday. No. 8 hitter Nader and No. 6 hitter Zedak led the team with two hits each, while the first four players in the lineup registered no hits on the day. Additionally, Nader knocked in all three of NU’s runs.

Although the game had quieter-than-usual offensive production, the Cats’ strong pitching staff and defense helped secure the win. Defensive web gems, in addition to Zedak’s fifth inning nab, included graduate outfielder Skyler Shellmyer’s Superman-style diving catch in the top of the second and sophomore infielder Grace Nieto’s leaping line drive grab in the top of the third.

The Cats will take on Nebraska in the next round. During the regular season, NU swept Nebraska. But after bowing in the semifinals last year to a Michigan team it beat twice in the regular season, the Cats can take nothing for granted.

To ensure a different result this year, NU will require production from its entire lineup, especially its first four hitters: Shellmyer, Robinson, graduate catcher Jordyn Rudd and junior infielder Hannah Cady.

But courtesy of firepower from newcomers like Nader and dominant pitching outings from Boyd and Williams, the Cats still have a cushion when the offense is less explosive.

NU will play in the Big Ten Tournament semifinal game on Friday at 7:30 p.m.

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Twitter: @rschlueter26

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