Northwestern upsets No. 6 Texas
Letourneau strands 13 Longhorn runners in shutout win
AUSTIN, Texas -- After a two-year absence from the NCAA tournament,Northwestern returned in 2012 in resounding fashion, getting a five-hit shutout from freshman Amy Letourneau and a 2-0 win against national No. 6-seed Texas in the Wildcats' opening game of the Austin Regional.
NU now is 11-2 all-time in its opening game of the NCAA tournament and improves to 28-27 on the season. Texas falls to 42-11 with its loss. Northwestern advances to take on Houston in the winner's bracket game on Saturday. The Cougars defeated Auburn, 2-1, in the opening game in Austin.
Letourneau's shutout was her second of the season. She threw 133 pitches and stranded 13 Longhorns on base, allowing nine walks to go along with the five hits while fanning five. She improves to 12-9 on the season with her victory.
Northwestern struck first in the top of the first in a way that has been vintage Wildcats all season long. Junior Emily Allard swatted the very first pitch of the game into left field for a leadoff single, then, after Adrienne Monka seared a pitch directly to the left fielder for the second out, she stole second. Sophomore Marisa Bast then blooped a single into center in front of the centerfielder to bring home Allard for a 1-0 Northwestern lead.
Letourneau drew the starting assignment for Northwestern's first NCAA tournament game since 2009, fanning two batters and stranding a pair of runners in the bottom of the first. She then worked around a leadoff walk in the bottom of the second to keep the Wildcats in the lead.
Northwestern got a pair of runners aboard in the top of the third on a one-out Allard walk and a snappy single into center from sophomore Mari Majam. Texas ace Blaire Luna recovered to fan the next two Wildcats to the plate to end the threat.
Texas put its two leadoff batters on in the bottom of the third, then executed a sacrifice from its No. 3 batter in the lineup. Letourneau got the next batter to hit a grounder to Allard at short, and the runner at third took off on contact. Allard smoothly fielded the ball and fired to Paige Tonz at the plate, where she had the ball waiting for the sliding Longhorn for the second out. Letourneau then got a swinging strikeout to end the frame.
Texas mounted a two-out rally with a walk and a single, then the leadoff hitter -- who entered the game with 16 home runs on the season -- crushed a home run distance ball that went foul by such a thin margin that perhaps Carlton Fisk could have waved it fair. Letourneau then got a strikeout with the very next pitch to send NU still up 1-0 to the fifth.
Northwestern seized on the opportunity and extended its lead. Kristin Scharkey led off the top of the fifth with an infield single, then moved to second when Allard expertly crafted the same hit for herself. Majam then slotted a single just inside the line in left to bring Scharkey to the plate for a 2-0 NU edge. Luna then struck out the next three Wildcats to the plate to end the inning.
Texas rallied again in the fifth, getting its first two batters to the plate aboard via walks. The next batter to the plate hit a grounder to short that Allard took to second herself, nearly getting a double play with her simultaneous throw to first. After a steal put Texas batters at second and third, Letourneau got a pretty backwards K after a prolonged battle for the second out. She then offered up the open base at first with a walk before a high chopper to Allard at short again provided the Wildcats with an escape from the threat.
Letourneau worked through a 1-2-3 bottom of the sixth with the help of a couple of great defensive plays. With one out, the speedy No. 9 slapper in the Longhorns' lineup hit a high bouncer toward short. Allard leapt and caught it, transferring the ball before she landed and firing to Monka at first, who scooped it for the second out. The next batter then hit a deep fly ball to right center that Olivia Duehr covered a measurable distance from right to catch to end the inning.
Texas' leadoff batter worked a walk to lead off the seventh inning before Allard ranged up the middle to glove a hard grounder and turn a huge 6-3 double play. The next two batters then singled before a walk loaded the bases, but, as she had all game long, Letourneau worked out of the jam with a fly ball to Duehr in right to end the game.
Northwestern's so-called "Conehead Line" of slappers at 9-1-2 in the lineup went a combined 5-for-10 in the game with two walks. Allard was 2-for-3 with a run and a steal, Majam went 2-for-4 with an RBI and Scharkey finished the game 1-for-3 with a run. Bast drove in her 64th run of the season with the first-inning single.