April 26, 2008
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- In a game that might have been better served taking place at the Ringling Bros. circus playing across the street at the Bryce Jordan Center, No. 12 Northwestern used back-to-back-to-back jacks in the fifth inning and a two-homer day from sophomore Nicole Pauly (Palatine, Ill./Palatine) to defeat Penn State Saturday, 6-5.
The win improves Northwestern to 31-10 overall on the year, and keeps the Wildcats in a tie for first place in the Big Ten with No. 6 Michigan at 15-1 heading into Sunday's showdown in Ann Arbor. Penn State falls to 32-19 on the season, 5-9 in the conference with its loss.
Northwestern got a pair of singles in the top of the first, but it was Penn State that had the game's first threat in the bottom half of the frame. After walks from NU starter Lauren Delaney (Jefferson City, Mo./Helias) to the first two batters in the PSU order, the Nittany Lions got runners to second and third with one out after a Wildcats' double play attempt went awry with an errant throw. Northwestern then blew up a squeeze attempt with a pickoff at third base before Delaney ended the inning with a strikeout.
In the bottom of the second inning, the first Penn State batter was hit by an 0-1 pitch, prompting the home plate umpire to sprint into the field of play and demonstratively warn both dugouts for no apparent reason. In Friday's contest between the teams, both Delaney and PSU hurler Ashley Esparza hit a pair of batters, but nothing out of the ordinary happened in the 14-inning marathon. The Nittany Lion runner in Saturday's second frame moved to second on a passed ball, to third on a sacrifice bunt and then scored on a wild pitch to give Penn State a 1-0 lead and its first run in 16 innings against NU on the weekend.
Northwestern knotted the game in the top of the third inning, with freshman Kelly Quinn (Northbrook, Ill./Glenbrook North) slapping a leadoff single back up the middle to get things going. She was erased on a fielder's choice grounder by freshman Robin Thompson (Detroit, Mich./Martin Luther King), but Penn State's attempt to double up the speedy freshman sailed into the NU dugout, allowing her to move to second.
Freshman Jordan Wheeler
(Garden Grove, Calif./Los Alamitos) then sent her second single of the game up the middle to plate Thompson and make the score 1-1.
After playing 18 innings of tight softball with the Nittany Lions, the Wildcats broke out the big sticks in the top of the fifth. Quinn reached as the leadoff batter for the second time in the game -- this time via a walk -- before she came around to score two outs later when junior Tammy Williams (Roscoe, Mo./Osceola) hit a ball over the fence in left to give NU a 3-1 lead.
The blast was Williams' team-best 10th of the season and the 40th of her career, but she would not lead the team alone for long.
Freshman Michelle Batts (Bloomingdale, Ill./Glenbard North) followed with a no-doubt solo shot of her own off Penn State pitcher Jackie Hill, giving her 10 for the year as well. Seeing the fun everyone else was having, Pauly immediately followed suit, sending her 10th blast of the year over the fence in center to give NU back-to-back-to-back jacks and a 5-1 lead in the game.
To begin the next inning, Penn State replaced starter Hill (15-8) with Jenn Reynolds in the circle.
Penn State got its first hit of the game in the bottom of the sixth inning with a line drive that got through the drawn-in outfield for a leadoff triple before the game got pretty ridiculous. The next batter was hit by a full-count pitch, and after a lengthy conference between the umpires during which Delaney was ejected because of the earlier warning, the umpires allowed Delaney to continue pitching after apparently realizing the second-inning warning had been unnecessary.
Following her absence, Delaney fired a wild pitch allowing the runner at third to come home and make the score 5-2. The next batter walked before Delaney got a strikeout, but back-to-back singles followed to slice NU's advantage to one, 5-4, with runners at the corners and one down. Another walk loaded the bases before Delaney got a pop up to Williams at short for out number two, but a jam-shot pop up fell in no-man's land behind the circle for an infield single to knot the score, 5-5. A liner to sophomore Kelly Dyer (Homer Glen, Ill./Lockport) finally sent the game to the seventh inning, where game one PSU starter Esparza took over in the circle.
Refusing to let the crazy circumstances of the game affect the 'Cats, Pauly drove a soaring, two-out home run deep over the fence in left in the top of the seventh to give NU the lead back, 6-5. Pauly's second blast of the game gives her the team lead with 11 on the year.
The first batter in the bottom of the seventh drew a walk against Delaney, then the sophomore notched her eighth strikeout of the game before issuing another base on balls. A backwards K brought the inning's second out before Delaney's 10th strikeout of the game ended the proceedings for good.
Delaney improved to 15-0 in the Big Ten and 28-6 on the season with the complete-game effort, allowing five runs (four earned) on four hits and seven walks with 10 strikeouts. Wheeler, Batts and Pauly all had two hits, with Williams and Pauly driving in two and Pauly scoring twice.
Northwestern returns to action in an 11 a.m. CT doubleheader tomorrow, Sunday, April 27, at No. 6 Michigan. Both games will be broadcast live on the Big Ten Network.