Softball walks-off vs. Iowa, no-hits Michigan St. to reach Big Ten championship

    In Big Ten Tournament play on Saturday, Northwestern (36-16) defeated Iowa in the quarterfinals (21-32) and Michigan State in the semifinals (26-26) to advance to Sunday’s championship game against Minnesota. The Wildcats defeated the #12 seed Hawkeyes 2-1 courtesy of an extra-innings walk-off, and followed that with a no-hitter against the #8 seed Spartans 11-0 in five innings. The team will face off against the #2 seed Golden Gophers in the tournament’s finale, a team they went 2-1 against in a three-game March series.

    Weather played a big role on delaying tournament games both on Friday and Saturday. Northwestern was intended to face off against Iowa on Friday, but rain delays of previous games forced a reschedule to early Saturday. After their noon win, the ’Cats had to endure more delays that pushed back the game against Michigan State. Finally, weather moved the championship game from Saturday night to Sunday morning, giving the team some much-deserved rest before the big game.

    Quarterfinal vs. Iowa

    Solid pitching and defensive efforts made up most of the game. After Iowa opened the 1st-inning with a RBI double, first-year Kenna Wilkey would not allow another hit until the 7th inning. She would finish the night allowing only 1 run and 3 hits, throwing for 8 strikeouts. She went through a streak of 15 retired batters of a row, and had an immaculate 4th inning (3 strikeouts on 9 pitches).

    Northwestern senior Marissa Panko scored in the 2nd-inning off a single from sophomore Morgan Newport. Newport would try to bring home another run in the 4th with sophomore Emma Bartz on second base, but a crucial Iowa diving catch stopped the scoring opportunity.

    Iowa had an opportunity to put the game away in the top of the 7th with runners on two bases and no outs, but were unable to capitalize. The game went to extra innings with score remained tied 1-1, until first-year Rachel Lewis hit a walk-off single in the bottom of the 8th, sending junior Lily Novak home to seal the game for the ’Cats.

    Semifinal vs. Michigan State

    Unlike the Iowa game, Northwestern got on the board early, piled the runs (with 13 total hits), and made it a blowout. A two-run 1st-inning seemed like a great start for the Wildcats, until they outdid themselves with an EIGHT-run 2nd-inning that forced two Spartan pitching changes. Many of the runs came through an onslaught of singles. There were no home runs for the ’Cats and only one extra-base hit (a 3-run double by senior Brooke Marquez).

    Though Northwestern would only score one more run in the 5th (a bases-loaded walk to make it 11-0), they had nothing to worry about from Michigan State’s offense. Newport blanked the Spartans for her first-ever no-hitter and the second-ever in the tournament’s history (after Minnesota’s no-hit of the ’Cats last year). She struck out four while allowing just one walk to cement her place in Big Ten history and Northwestern’s spot in the championship.


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