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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Softball: Northwestern beats Saint Francis (PA) in opening NCAA Tournament game

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Daily file photo by Henry Frieman
Sophomore outfielder Kansas Robinson prepares for an at-bat. Robinson had two hits and two RBIs in Northwestern’s win over Saint Francis (PA).

Eight days removed from its Big Ten Tournament quarterfinal loss to Indiana, Northwestern took on Saint Francis (PA) in the opening bout of the NCAA tournament Austin Regional. 

With Big Ten Pitcher of the Year Ashley Miller on the mound to start, the Wildcats (33-11, 19-3 Big Ten) overcame early pitching woes to defeat the Red Flash (40-13, 24-0 Northeast Conference) 7-2. 

After conceding 25 walks in her last five appearances, Miller issued a four-pitch walk and tossed two illegal pitches to start the game. 

With their leadoff batter aboard, the Northeast Conference champions capitalized on a sacrifice bunt to advance the runner to third before she scored on a wild pitch. 

Miller’s command struggles persisted into the second inning, yielding another walk and illegal pitch before freshman pitcher Riley Grudzielanek took over in the circle. 

“Miller’s fighting it,” coach Kate Drohan said. “Her command has been shaky the last couple of outings, but man, she’s been working and she’s been really coachable.”

Drohan’s squad struggled to find its offensive rhythm against two-time Northeast Conference Pitcher of the year Grace Vesco, who concedes an average of 2.93 hits per game and was one of three players in the nation with an ERA under 2.00 and a batting average over .325 entering Friday’s game. 

Held hitless for the opening two frames, the ‘Cats fired back in the bottom of the third, scoring seven runs on two hit by pitches, three walks and four hits. 

Freshman utility player Isabel Cunnea was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning, and junior outfielder Ayana Lindsey moved her to third with a single. 

Sophomore infielder Kansas Robinson drove in two runs with a single, scoring NU’s first runs of the game. Another hit by pitch and three consecutive walks extended the lead to two.

Back-to-back hits from sophomore infielder Bridget Donahey and Cunnea allowed four more NU runs to cross the plate before freshman infielder Ainsley Muno struck out to end the momentum-shifting frame. 

Grudzielanek defended the team’s lead in the circle, pitching out of bases-loaded situations in each of her first three innings and holding the Red Flash scoreless until graduate student pitcher Cami Henry relieved her in the sixth. 

With Henry on the mound, the Red Flash decreased their deficit by one, scoring on consecutive hits and an error by Lindsey in centerfield. 

Freshman pitcher Renae Cunningham took the mound in the seventh, securing the victory and concluding a game that saw action from all four pitchers in NU’s rotation.

“All four of them have zero postseason experience, so our goal was to get them out on the field, have them settle in and really just get an inning or two under their belt,” Drohan said.

The ‘Cats are set to take on No. 1 Texas in a Saturday winner’s bracket showdown. A loss in that game will pit them against the winner of Saint Francis and Siena at 5:00 p.m., while a win will propel them to Sunday’s championship for a chance to punch their Super Regional ticket. 

 

Email: [email protected]

X: @AudreyPachuta

 

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