Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Haner: A love letter to the multimedia room

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Derrick Gragg appointed as Northwestern’s vice president for athletic strategy, search for new athletic director begins

Lacrosse: Northwestern’s Izzy Scane wins 2024 Honda Sport Award

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Lacrosse: Northwestern’s Izzy Scane wins 2024 Tewaaraton Award

May 30, 2024


The secret (and short) lives of cicadas on campus

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Everything Evanston: Behind the boba in downtown Evanston

Softball: No. 23 Northwestern wins series against Indiana, clinches Big Ten regular season title

Henry Frieman/The Daily Northwestern
Freshman utility player Isabel Cunnea celebrates after Northwestern clinched the Big Ten regular season title Sunday.

No. 23 Northwestern entered its final regular season series against Indiana at The “J” controlling its conference destiny.

With a half-game lead over Michigan for first place in Big Ten standings, the Wildcats (33-10, 19-3 Big Ten) won two games against the Hoosiers (37-17, 12-11 Big Ten) to clinch their third consecutive Big Ten regular season title.

“I’m just so proud of this team,” coach Kate Drohan said. “This group just has so much maturity and perspective, so it’s been one of the most rewarding years I’ve had here for sure.”

In Friday’s series opener, NU fell behind early as graduate student pitcher Ashley Miller couldn’t find a rhythm in the circle.

Miller struggled to find the strike zone in her lone inning, walking five batters and tossing three wild pitches before freshman pitcher Renae Cunningham took over in relief.

Facing a Hoosier squad that led the Big Ten in every team-based offensive statistical category, Drohan’s squad needed to rely on depth in its pitching rotation to navigate through tight spots.

Trotting to the circle with no outs and two runners in scoring position, Cunningham allowed just one of Miller’s walked batters to score, as a double play and a strikeout concluded the inning.

Indiana plated two more runs in the top of the fourth off three consecutive hits and an error by sophomore infielder Bridget Donahey, but the ’Cats swiftly countered as freshman catcher Emma Raye led off the bottom of the inning with a solo homerun.

After tacking on another run in the fifth via an RBI single by senior infielder Hannah Cady, NU secured the comeback victory in an explosive sixth-inning, two-out rally powered by the bottom of its lineup.

Freshman infielder Ainsley Muno, batting eighth, walked, and junior outfielder Ayana Lindsey, the nine-hole hitter, brought in the tying run with an RBI double.

As the go-ahead run loomed in scoring position, the Hoosiers found themselves confronting the fiery bat of sophomore infielder Kansas Robinson at the plate, who leads NU in batting average, hits, RBIs and home runs.

After Robinson was intentionally walked, sophomore outfielder Kelsey Nader stepped into the box with the outcome of the game in her hands.

“All I knew is that I wanted to extend that inning,” Nader said. 

Nader didn’t just extend the inning, but also the ’Cats’ championship chances, knocking in three runs with a homer down the right field line to make the score 6-3. Three quick Hoosier outs later, NU secured the first game of the series.

Carrying their winning momentum into Saturday’s game, the hosts wasted no time in the first inning, opening scoring with back-to-back hits and a wild pitch to start off the game.

With graduate student pitcher Cami Henry on the mound to start, NU’s lead was short-lived, as the Hoosiers notched three consecutive singles and a grand slam to lead off the second inning, knocking Henry out of the game and calling on Cunningham in relief again.

Indiana built its lead steadily throughout the game, plating additional runs in both the fourth and fifth innings.

Following her testy performance Friday, Miller returned to the circle in the fifth inning of Saturday’s contest, encountering similar difficulties as she did the day before.

In just 2.1 innings pitched, Miller walked another five batters before Henry took over again in the seventh and finished the game that she started.

Despite plating two runs in the fifth on a Muno solo shot and a wild pitch, the ’Cats ultimately fell 8-3 — marking their first loss at home since April 2022 and ending the longest active home winning streak in Division I softball.

In its final game of the regular season, NU beat the Hoosiers 4-2 on Senior Day.

Despite falling behind 2-0 early on, the ’Cats found cause for early celebration as Michigan’s defeat to Ohio State secured their Big Ten regular season title during the second inning. Fans roared when the Buckeyes defeated the Wolverines, but the dugout remained locked in on the matchup in Evanston.

“If someone had told me before the season that we’d have to win the last game of the season to win the Big Ten, I think we would have taken it. It’s not about anything else besides playing our own game,” Drohan said. 

Nader led off the third with a bunt single before graduate student outfielder Angela Zedak moved her into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt.

After Cady tied the game at two apiece with an RBI single, Raye launched a homer that nearly landed on Welsh-Ryan Arena’s roof, giving NU a two-run advantage.

The Hoosiers were held scoreless for the subsequent three frames as Miller regained her command in the circle.

With two outs in the top of the seventh, Cunningham took over in relief after Miller walked the bases loaded. With just two pitches, the freshman got the groundout and ended the game in an NU victory.

Following the win, Miller said the joy of winning the conference title wasn’t dulled by her circle woes.

“I’ve dreamed of winning a championship at a collegiate level my entire career,” Miller said Sunday. “Now that it’s true, it’s just the best feeling ever.”

Following another winning weekend at home, the ’Cats will head to Iowa City for the Big Ten Tournament, which begins Thursday.

Email: [email protected]

X: @AudreyPachuta

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