It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was softball's doubleheader against Illinois. After run-ruling their in-state rivals 12-4 in five innings in their first game, the 'Cats (22-18, 10-6 B1G) committed four errors in the back end and fell to the Fighting Illini (22-23, 11-6 B1G) 9-8. By failing to sweep the Illini, Northwestern was prevented from catapulting into fourth place in the conference, a slot that guarantees a first round bye in the upcoming B1G Tournament.
In Game 1, the Illini led 3-1 heading into the bottom of the third before the purple floodgates burst open. NU put up a 9-spot in its half of the third, sending 14 hitters to the plate, taking a combined six walks and hit-by-pitches, and smacking two home runs, one from junior Andrea Filler and another from freshman Sammy Nettling. The nine run frame marks a season record for the Wildcats, who used that and a solid complete game outing from junior pitcher Kristen Wood to cruise to a mercy rule 12-4 win.
The second game was considerably more dramatic. The Illini took a page out of the 'Cats' book, scoring five runs in their first at bat. However, just two of those runs were earned, as two NU errors and walks allowed UI to grab a commanding lead. From then on it was a seesaw battle, thanks to NU coming back to tie at seven in the bottom of the fourth with help from a home run from senior Anna Edwards, an RBI double from senior Andrea DiPrima and a sac fly from senior Julia Kuhn. Fittingly, Illinois grabbed the lead back in the top of the seventh on a two-run error and withstood a late NU rally to escape 9-8. When all was sad and done, six of UI's nine runs were unearned.
Like their counterparts on the baseball and lacrosse fields, the Wildcat softball team will also be taking on Ohio State this weekend in its final home series and second-to-last conference series of the season.