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Northwestern Explodes Past Detroit Mercy, Louisville beats Southern Illinois

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(Photo Courtesy of Northwestern Athletics)

EVANSTON, Ill. — Northwestern’s offense is back and in a big way.

The No. 16 Wildcats (44-10) were held to just two runs combined in their last four games, a stretch in which they went 1-3 following a 20-game winning streak. But Northwestern had a pair of explosive innings Friday en route to a 15-1, five-inning victory over Detroit Mercy in the opening game of the Evanston Regional.

“Our confidence was affected the last couple of weekends,” Wildcats head coach Kate Drohan said. “It was affecting how we were approaching our at-bats. We went back to the basics, and just said, trust the work, be aggressive, and I think it made a really big difference.”

The Titans (31-27), playing in their first-ever NCAA Tournament game, scored a run in the first off Northwestern ace Danielle Williams, with Ellen Boeteler’s single driving in Courtney Gilbert. But the Wildcats struck for six in the second and then nine in the third, quickly erasing any thought of an upset.

Williams helped her own cause with a run-scoring single to tie the game, and then two-run doubles by Skyler Shellmyer and Morgan Nelson gave Northwestern a 5-1 lead. The Wildcats added one more in the inning, then continued their onslaught in the third.

Williams hit the first of three Northwestern home runs in the inning, an opposite-field two-run shot, to make the score 8-1. After a series of hits and walks scored two more, Jordyn Rudd launched a three-run blast to make it a 13-1 game, and Kenna Wilkey joined in on the action with a two-run homer of her own to account for the final margin.

“Northwestern did a really nice job,” Detroit Mercy coach John Conway said. “They were patient, they didn’t swing at a lot of pitches. The zone was a little tight, but I’m not going to go there. They had very good discipline and they hit the ball well.”

With the big lead, Williams exited after three innings and Wilkey pitched the last two, striking out four of the six batters she faced. All of Northwestern’s pitchers should be fresh for the Wildcats’ winners’ bracket game Saturday against Louisville.

Northwestern beat Louisville three times during the regular season, but none of those games were decided by more than two runs, and the teams last met on February 17.

“We had our lineup flowing again, where different people stepped up, whether it was a key walk or a pivotal opposite-field base hit,” Drohan said. “It was good to get things going again.”

Louisville Wins Back-And-Forth Contest Over SIU

Louisville started strong and finished strong in its NCAA Tournament opener against Southern Illinois, and it was enough to get past the Salukis on a cold, drizzly Friday afternoon.

The Cardinals (34-21) once led 4-0 on the strength of an error, a wild pitch and a two-run Sidney Melton home run, but trailed 5-4 by the fourth inning. But Celene Funke hit a run-scoring single to tie the game in the fourth, and Louisville took the lead with three runs in the fifth and another in the sixth. Megan Hensley broke the tie with a long home run in the fifth, and that ultimately proved to be the difference.

Southern Illinois (33-14) had gone ahead with a three-run fourth, highlighted by Jenny Jansen’s two-run double, but could not hold the lead. The Salukis will face Detroit Mercy in an elimination game Saturday.

“We battled through things and that’s one of the things we always talk about is how to handle adversity,” Louisville coach Holly Aprile said. “We’ve done that all year. We just found a way to win.”

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2019 Freshman Player of the Year

Danielle Williams led Northwestern to a Super Regional appearance and a national-seed in the NCAA Tournament.