For Northwestern softball (26-14 B1G), a weekend series in West Lafayette against Purdue (15-25 B1G) seemed to be exactly what the doctor ordered. After two tough series against conference-leading Michigan (32-6 B1G) and in-state rival Illinois (23-17 B1G), the ’Cats were hoping that the series against the lowly Boilermakers– who sit at 11th in the Big Ten– would help kickstart their momentum going into the final stretches of the regular season.
No such luck; the ’Cats split the games against the Boilermakers in a series that saw the offense stall, and pitchers come up just short. In the series, Northwestern continued to be led by junior catcher Jordyn Rudd offensively, as she recorded five hits, including the game-winning knock in the final game that tied up the series for the ’Cats.
The ’Cats also saw contributions from senior second-baseman Rachel Lewis, who recorded four hits and scored two runs, and graduate utility player Morgan Newport, who knocked three hits, a home run and three runs batted in. Newport also led the way pitching for Northwestern, who pitched nine innings for the ’Cats, allowed just five hits and earned the win in the second matchup.
Purdue was led in their efforts by junior second-baseman Becca Jones, who whacked six hits and three RBIs, and junior designated-player Alex Echazarreta, who knocked in three hits and three RBIs, while also scoring two runs. In the circle, the Boilermakers saw a fantastic performance from sophomore left-hander Ashley Peters, who pitched 12.1 innings, allowed nine hits and no runs, and secured a complete shutout in the third game.
The ’Cats came into the first game of the doubleheader on May 7 swinging… and scoring. In the first inning, Northwestern raced out to a 3-0 lead following a three-run home run from Newport, opening the game wide open for the ’Cats.
Unfortunately, Northwestern was unable to keep the momentum up, and junior left-hander Danielle Williams– who has won fifteen games this year for the ’Cats– was not up to her usual snuff, allowing Purdue to mount a comeback in the third inning off a three-run home run from first-year first-baseman Kaitlyn Brannstrom.
The Boilermakers would score three more runs in the fifth, and despite the best efforts of Newport in the circle, the ’Cats were unable to make the comeback, dropping the first game 7-3.
In the second game of the doubleheader on May 7, the ’Cats and Boilermakers locked themselves in a duel satisfactory for any softball fan. With Newport back in the circle for Northwestern, the two teams traded scoreless innings until the fourth, when the offenses finally broke through for both squads.
With two outs on them, the ’Cats were able to capitalize on small-ball– meaning they scored runs using less-than-flashy hits and good base running– when junior shortstop Maeve Nelson and sophomore left-fielder Angela Zedak each whacked short hits to get the team up 2-0.
Purdue responded right back with a single of their own, however, after Zedak was unable to make the final out of the inning on a pop fly from the Boilermakers’ Jones. Tied 2-2 in the sixth, Zedak more than made up for the error with a long RBI single to put the ’Cats up 3-2.
From there, it was all Morgan Newport, as she retired six straight batters to win the game– and tie the series– for Northwestern.
The first game in the May 8 doubleheader featured a fantastic pitching duel between Northwestern first-year right-hander Lauren Boyd, and Purdue sophomore left-hander Ashley Peters. Both defenses seemed evenly matched, with Peters allowing just six hits and Boyd allowing only five, and neither offense scoring a run until the sixth inning. It became a “next hit wins” mentality for both teams, but both struggled to capitalize on the effort.
Finally, in the bottom of the sixth inning, Echazarreta of Purdue finally broke through for the Boilermakers. With two strikes and two outs on her and a runner on second to score, Echazarreta poked a single down the left-field line and put the Boilermakers in front for good, winning the game 1-0.
Purdue takes the 1-0 lead!— Purdue Softball (@PurdueSoftball) May 8, 2021
Kiley Goff scores withAlex Echazarreta's single with two outs in the bottom of the sixth! pic.twitter.com/VRhcZTIuzV
On May 8, in the final game of the series and the second of the Saturday doubleheader, junior left-hander Danielle Williams came in with a vengeance. After losing the first game and being chased after just five innings of work, Williams came in throwing fire, allowing just six hits and striking out eight batters.
With bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Danielle Williams slams the door on Purdue with a strikeout!— Northwestern Softball (@NUSBcats) May 9, 2021
FINAL | NU 1, PURDUE 0 pic.twitter.com/SSZzUcetEl
Backed by Williams, the ’Cats offense didn’t need to do much. Facing Purdue senior right-hander Sydney Bates, Northwestern recorded just six hits themselves, but was able to finally capitalize in the third-inning on more small-ball, as Rudd smacked a single through the infield to score a run. It was all the ’Cats needed, winning the game 1-0.
Despite splitting the series, it seems like the ’Cats still have several questions to answer. Scoring just seven runs over four games, and only one over the final two, the Northwestern offense continues to be an enigma. While the pitching continues to stymie, if the ’Cats want to go far in the postseason, they’re going to have to find a way to consistently perform offensively.
While the ’Cats no longer have a chance to win the Big Ten (Michigan won the conference on May 8, their 12th conference title over the past 13 seasons), they still have a chance to do some damage following the regular season if they win an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. Before they get there, however, they will host their final regular season series at Sharon J. Drysdale Field this weekend against Nebraska (21-19).
Let’s hope they bring their bats.