Northwestern rallies to eliminate RedHawks
Platt, Blaska anchor Miami challenge
By MIKE SMITH
EVANSTON, ILL -- Northwestern worked its way out of a bases loaded/no outs jam in the seventh inning to edge Miami 5-4 in regional softball action Sunday at Drysdale Field.
With the victory, No. 12 Northwestern (41-11) punched its ticket to super-regional action later this week in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Miami, appearing in its first regional final, finished the campaign with a 39-20 record.
The RedHawks led through much of the game, but surrendered single runs in the sixth and seventh innings to fall behind 5-4.
Nontheless, MU's chances for victory . . .
. . . rose significantly when it loaded the bases in no outs in the bottom of the seventh. Wildcats ace Danielle Williams (22-1) got the first out on a strikeout before Kate Kobayashi grounded to first in what would be a pivotal play. First baseman Nikki Cuchran fielded the ball and threw home for a force out at home plate. Runner Allie Cummins was immediately called out, but the play went to review as there was some question about the catcher's foot being on home plate at the time she received the ball.
Review resulted in the initial out call standing. Miami pinch hitter Shelby Kunkel was sent to bat with two outs, but she quickly became Williams' sixth strikeout victim. Between Williams and starter Lauren Boyd, Wildcat pitching registered 15 of MU's 21 outs on strikeouts. Their main tool was the changeup pitch, which functioned as an effective antidote against much of Miami's powerful lineup.
The RedHawks did connect on two home runs. One was by No. 2 hitter Holly Blaska. The other came from No. 3 hitter Karli Spaid. However, the 4-6 spots totaled eight strikeouts with no hits on the day.
Miami recorded seven hits overall. Three of those came in the first three innings as Miami built a 2-0 lead. Spaid's solo shot in the first frame opened scoring. The RedHawks added another score in the third when Riley Coyne walked with the bases loaded.
Had they won, the RedHawks still would have had to beat NU again Sunday in a second game. Getting there, of course, was requisite, so ace Brianna Pratt (32-12) took the mound for her fourth start of the weekend. She faced all but two batters of the previous three games and tossed shutouts against Eastern Illinois and Kentucky Saturday.
Pratt continued her scoreless string against NU for three innings. However, Cuchran homered to right center in the fourth. That two-run shot tied the score at 2-2, and NU took its first lead with a single tally in the fifth. Catcher Jordan Rudd's single to right field scored Skyler Shellmyer from second.
Miami bounced back to reclaim its lead in the bottom half of the fifth. Cummins led off with a single down the left field line and Blaska followed with her fourth home run blast of the tourney.
The RedHawks led 4-3, but Northwestern managed to tie the game without benefit of a hit in the sixth. Two walks and a fielders choice left Angela Zedak on second base with one out. When Kelsey Nader hit a grounder to second, Parks threw to first for the second out. Zedak, however, never stopped at third and slid safely into home before a throw reached Coyne at the plate.
When MU failed to score in the bottom of the sixth, the two teams head to the seventh. Shellmyer led off with a single to center and went to second on a sacrifice bunt. Rudd then followed with an RBI double to center field. A flyout and strikeout stranded Rudd, but the damage had been done. When MU was unable to score a run in its final turn, the Wildcats had their 14th victory in 14 games at Drysdale Field.
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Editor-Publisher Mike Smith
Mike grew up in Mid-American Conference football and basketball territory and returned there after military service. He has been covering MAC football and men's basketball for much of the last several decades.