Northwestern beats No. 11 Cal
Wildcats need extra innings but come through with walk-off win
FULLERTON, Calif. -- Northwestern and No. 11 California battled tooth-and-nail through seven scoreless innings Friday morning at the DeMarini Invitational before putting up matching deuces in the eighth. After holding the Bears scoreless in the ninth, the Wildcats got a two-out, bases-loaded hit to walk off with a 3-2 win.
The victory moves Northwestern to 8-5 overall on the season while California falls to 9-2 with its loss. Northwestern has won seven of its last eight meetings with the Pac-10 power dating to 2005.
The game was Northwestern's third extra-inning affair against a ranked opponent this season. The Wildcats previously fell in international tiebreaker play against No. 23 Oklahoma State and No. 2 UCLA this year. ITB play places a runner at second base to begin each half inning; it is used in extra frames during these preconference tournaments to enhance scoring chances and keep things on schedule.
In the top of the first, Northwestern starter Jessica Smith allowed a one-out single before fanning the next two Bears to the plate for a strong start to her game.
In the bottom of the first, Emily Allard led off with a single, but was caught stealing for the first out. It was NU's first would-be base-stealer caught in its first 27 tries this season, and it marked Allard's first caught-stealing after a perfect 13-for-13 start to the year. The Wildcats went down in order from there to end the first.
Smith masterfully escaped a jam in the top of the second after Cal got its two leadoff batters to second and third with no outs. Smith got a high pop-up to left-fielder Jordan Wheeler behind the bag at third for the first out before a strikeout and groundout ended the inning with the game still scoreless.
Northwestern had a rally snuffed in the bottom of the third after it got runners to first and second with one out, helped in part by Allard's second hit of the game. A nice running catch in the outfield, however, contributed to doubling up the NU runner at second to end the frame.
In the circle, Smith was rolling, retiring nine in a row through the fourth after those first two Bears in the second reached against her. In the bottom of the fourth, Adrienne Monka was hit by a pitch to begin the frame, giving way to pinch runner Lauren Ackerman. Ackerman stole second, then moved to third on an expertly placed groundout to first by Michelle Batts. The next two Wildcats struck out, though, against Cal starter Jolene Henderson to keep the game scoreless.
Smith picked up her teammates with two more strikeouts in the top of the fifth to match her career high of seven in the game, running her streak of consecutive retirees to 12.
In the top of the sixth, the leadoff batter broke through against Smith for a triple. The NU senior fought back to get a lineout to Allard at short followed by a grounder to short to find that Bear still at third with two outs. Smith then went to a 3-0 count on the cleanup batter before three-consecutive strikes set her down swinging to preserve the 0-0 tie.
Northwestern put together its own rally in the sixth. Robin Thompson reached on a perfect bunt single to start the inning, then moved to second when Monka singled into right. Henderson (9-2), like Smith before her, battled back to get the third out on a tough pop fly behind short off the bat of Marisa Bast, keeping the game scoreless to the seventh.
Smith recorded her fourth 1-2-3 inning of the game in the top of the seventh, then NU also went down in order to send the game into extras.
In the top of the eighth, Smith retired the first two batters she faced while keeping the Cal ITB runner at second base. She was charged with a balk prior to pitching to the third batter of the inning to move that runner up, then a single through the right side of the infield gave Cal a 1-0 lead. A stolen base followed by another single made the Bear lead 2-0 before catcher Paige Tonz picked off the runner at first to end the frame.
With Kristin Scharkey starting the NU eighth at second, Allard slapped a ball into center than fell in. Scharkey waited to make sure it dropped before moving to third, but Allard ran hard all the way to get into second with a double. Thompson then gave herself up with a great bunt to bring in Scharkey and move Allard to third, cutting the deficit in half, 2-1, with one down in the frame. A walk to Monka put 'Cats at first and third, then Batts laid down a squeeze bunt of her own to bring Allard to plate and knot the game, 2-2. The inning would end there, sending the contest to the ninth.
After a nice pickoff to end the eighth, Tonz got a huge first out in the ninth with a lunging catch of a foul sacrifice bunt attempt. Smith then notched her ninth strikeout of the game before hitting a batter, but a fielder's choice grounder to Allard at short kept the game tied, 2-2, to NU's half of the ninth.
In the bottom of the ninth, Majam began at second, then moved to third on a perfect Bast sacrifice bunt. Tonz was hit by a pitch to put runners at the corners before the throw came home on a Wheeler grounder to second to put out Majam. Now with two outs, Scharkey smashed a ball through the third baseman that was just hard enough to allow everyone to be safe on the single, loading the bases for Allard. Entering the at-bat, Allard already had three hits in the game and was batting .587. She chopped a ball high off the infield that no Bear could reach in time, winning the game, 3-2, with her fourth base knock.
Smith (2-4) earned every inch of the win in the circle, allowing two runs (one earned) on five hits and no walks with a career-best nine strikeouts. She masterfully escaped two runner-at-third-and-no-out jams to help send the game into extra innings scoreless.
At the plate, Allard notched her sixth game with three or more hits this season for NU. She has four three-hit games, one four-hit outing and a five-hit performance.
Northwestern returns to action at 3:30 p.m. CT today, March 4, against Southern Miss at the DeMarini Invitational.