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Louisville Upsets Northwestern, Wildcats Battle Back To Reach Final

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(Photo Courtesy of Louisville Athletics)

EVANSTON, Ill. — The fourth time proved to be the charm for Louisville.

The Cardinals played three games against Northwestern during the regular season and lost them all by a combined four runs. But getting another crack at the No. 16 Wildcats (45-11) at the NCAA Tournament, Louisville (35-21) finally sealed the deal.

Northwestern ace Danielle Williams set down every Cardinals hitter she faced — except two. A second-inning home run by Taylor Roby and a seventh-inning solo shot by Sidney Melton were enough for the Cardinals to get the 2-1 upset win.

“To come up with a win here is huge, but we have more work to do,” Louisville coach Holly Aprile said. “The home run, it scores runs, so you just have to find ways to win. We came up with a couple really good at-bats and we got the ball out of the park.”

On the other side, Cardinals pitcher Danielle Watson dealt with plenty of traffic on the basepaths, but kept the Wildcats off the scoreboard time and time again. Northwestern loaded the bases on walks in the first before Watson struck out Morgan Newport to escape. The Wildcats had two on with one out and the top of the order coming up in the second, but again Watson got out of it. She stranded two more runners in the third before settling into a rhythm.

The game was delayed by lightning and rain for nearly three hours in the fifth, but both pitchers returned to the circle afterward and picked up right where they left off. Melton’s homer gave Louisville a key insurance run, a run the Cardinals would need because the Wildcats made a spirited comeback attempt in the bottom of the seventh.

With two outs and nobody on, Morgan Nelson worked a 10-pitch at-bat for a walk, and then Maeve Nelson saw nine pitches herself before lining a double to right field to score a run. But Watson finished the job, getting Nikki Cuchran to ground out to short to end the game.

“I was just trying to roll a ground ball, get an out any way I could,” Watson said. “They hadn’t been squaring anything up, so I knew that I just needed to keep doing what I was doing.”

Watson gave up four hits and six walks, but Northwestern was 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position. Williams, meanwhile, struck out 10 and walked none, but was tagged with the hard-luck loss.

With the win, Louisville advanced to its first regional final in seven years, and is one win away from becoming the first unseeded team to advance to the Super Regionals since 2016.

Northwestern Bounces Back

Northwestern rebounded from its loss earlier in the day to beat Southern Illinois 8-1 in a cold, windy night game that ended after midnight.

Kenna Wilkey went the distance for the Wildcats, despite giving up five hits and seven walks. The Salukis (34-15) left 10 runners on base and were 2-for-13 with runners in scoring position.

Northwestern struck first for a pair of runs in the second, on an RBI double by Morgan Newport and a bases-loaded walk to Skyler Shellmyer. Newport doubled the Wildcats’ lead an inning later with a two-run home run, part of a 4-for-4 night for the junior.

“I was just trying to stay aggressive the whole game,” Newport said. “We were just trying to get our offense going, getting hits together.”

Southern Illinois got a run back in the fourth when Sidney Sikes’ single drove in Ashley Wood, but Wilkey kept pitching into and out of trouble. She struck out just three and did not have a single one-two-three inning, but only gave up one run. She then helped her own cause in the seventh with a grand slam to break the game wide open.

We were trying to be a little to fine in that first game, maybe a little too aggressive,” Northwestern coach Kate Drohan said. “The second game, we were able to barrel up the ball a little bit better. I liked our focus with each at-bat, our focus pitch-to-pitch was great.”

Southern Illinois 2, Detroit Mercy 1

Earlier in the evening, the Salukis eliminated Detroit Mercy on a walk-off single by Maris Boelens in the seventh, denying the Titans (31-28) their first-ever NCAA Tournament win.

Southern Illinois started with No. 2 pitcher Claire Miller before turning to ace Brianna Jones in the third after Miller gave up an unearned run. Jones went the rest of the way, scattering four hits and a walk and striking out five.

The Salukis tied it in the fifth on a delayed steal of home. Jenny Jansen, on first base, took off for second and prompted a throw, and although she was ultimately tagged out after a brief rundown, Maddy Vermejan scored from third to even the score.

Then in the seventh, Sikes drew a leadoff walk, Susie Baranski reached on an infield hit and Vermejan bunted both runners up a base before Boelens’ hit allowed Southern Illinois’ season to continue for another few hours.

Northwestern and Louisville will meet in the regional final starting at 1 p.m. Central, weather permitting, with the Wildcats needing to beat the Cardinals twice to advance.

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