EVANSTON, Ill. — Northwestern Softball got off to a slow start Saturday afternoon in a playoff battle between two Wildcat squads, but an explosive third inning at the plate helped them cement a spot in the NCAA Evanston Regional Final.
Hosted right at home, no. 15-ranked Northwestern (40-11) knocked off no. 22-ranked Kentucky (31-21-1), 10-8, thanks in most part to an eight-run third inning fueled by three home runs.
Here’s how the action went down:
Northwestern was sloppy out of the gate, with a first inning throwing error from pitcher Lauren Boyd on a sacrifice bunt from Kentucky’s Kennedy Sullivan that led to two runs coming across the plate.
Kentucky’s Meeko Harrison would add one more with an RBI single — scoring Sullivan from third base on an unearned run — before the end of the top half of the first, giving Kentucky a 3-0 lead before Northwestern saw their first at-bats of the day.
The Wildcats from Evanston responded though.
Skyler Shellmyer hit a leadoff single, and Jordyn Rudd later crushed a two-run home run to close the gap to just one at the end of the first inning, 3-2.
Kentucky dropped another three-spot in the scoreboard in the top half of the second inning, this time thanks to a first pitch, three-run home run from Kayla Kowalik to broaden their lead to four, 6-2.
After each side exchanged a scoreless half inning in the bottom of the second and top of the third, Northwestern put the pedal to the floor and roared to an eight-run bottom of the third that featured two home runs from Kansas Robinson, one home run from Maeve Nelson, an RBI single from Angela Zedak, and a sacrifice fly and an RBI from Nikki Cuchran, flipping the script on Kentucky and giving Northwestern a lead they would never relinquish, 10-6.
“I think I’m just focusing on being really aggressive,” Robinson said during the postgame press conference on her approach at the plate. “[I’m] trying my best to really be prepared when I step in the box and attack that first pitch.”
The Wildcats from Lexington went on to put a pair of balls beyond the outfield fence at Sharon J. Drysdale Field — solo home runs from Erin Coffel in the fourth, and Sullivan in the seventh — but couldn’t mount enough of a comeback before Northwestern’s Danielle Williams closed the door toeing the rubber in the seventh for a 10-8 win.
Robinson finished the day 2-4 with 2 HRs and 4 RBIs, while Nelson notched a 2-3 performance with a HR, single and a HBP.
Williams tossed six innings of four-run ball to earn the win in the circle for Northwestern.
“It was a battle. It was definitely a hitter’s park today,” Northwestern Head Coach Kate Drohan said after the game. “Both teams were really tough offensively. I said it yesterday and I’ll say it today, we did enough to win that ballgame and we’ve got to be ready to be a little bit better tomorrow.”
With the victory, Northwestern improved to 13-0 at home on the season, with their (possible) final home game of the season set for Sunday in the Evanston Regional Final.
The regional round format of the NCAA tournament is double elimination, with Miami of Ohio playing against Eastern Illinois — who Northwestern beat 2-0 behind a three-hit shutout from Williams earlier this week — in the elimination portion of the bracket Saturday afternoon.
The winner of that matchup will face Kentucky for a chance to face Northwestern in the regional final Sunday, starting at 3 p.m. CST.
If Northwestern were to lose Sunday, a second game against the same opponent would then take place at 8 p.m., with the winner taking home the regional championship.