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Northwestern Softball ends the season with a loss to No. 1 Texas

After defeating Saint Francis (PA) on Friday Opening of the NCAA TournamentNorthwestern advanced to the Austin regional championship with a 1-1 record on Saturday before ending its season with a loss to No. 1 Texas on Sunday.

In their first contest on Saturday, the Wildcats (35-13, 19-3 Big Ten) fell to the Longhorns (50-7, 23-4 Big 12) 14-2 as their opponents dominated the run-rule defeat.

Texas went scoreless in the first frame and built a four-run lead with two home runs in the second.

NU responded to an early deficit with two runs in the third inning, with junior outfielder Ayana Lindsey drawing a walk and sophomore outfielder Kelsey Nader gaining yardage to cut the deficit in half.

With freshmen Riley Grudzielanek and Renae Cunningham on the mound for most of the game, coach Kate Drohan's team struggled to contain the Longhorns' potent offense.

After extending their lead to three runs with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the third inning, the hosts continued to extend their lead, scoring nine runs on seven hits in the fourth inning, bringing the game into mercy rule territory.

Down to the last three outs to start the fifth, Nader singled on a line drive to right field, but senior infielder Hannah Cady was ultimately fouled, ending the game.

With their season on the line, the Cats rebounded with a 5-1 victory over Saint Francis to advance to the championship on Sunday.

Drohan's group wasted no time and managed to score two runs in the first inning, capitalizing on a base hit and two stolen bases.

Grudzielanek and Cunningham split time in the circle, giving up just one Red Flash run on an RBI single in the third inning.

NU extended its lead to four early in the sixth when freshman utility player Isabel Cunnea hit a home run and sophomore infielders Kansas Robinson and Lindsey scored on Nader's two-RBI single.

Nader led NU with four hits and four RBIs over the weekend.

Coming into the championship on Sunday, the Cats needed to beat Texas twice to advance to next week's Super Regional.

After struggling with her command in recent weeks, pitcher Ashley Miller took the mound to start Sunday's contest and walked the bases loaded to put the game ahead before allowing two Runs crossed the plate on a single.

The Longhorns held the Cats hitless until the sixth inning and steadily increased their lead as the game progressed.

After giving up two walks, a single and a three-run home run in the second, Miller left Grudzielanek to take over in the circle with five left.

In the top of the third, Lindsey blasted a runner to the plate from center field to give NU momentum on its way to the plate, but the visitors were unable to capitalize on the energy as they were eliminated one after the other in the bottom of the frame.

Texas added a run in both the third and fourth innings, extending its lead to seven before Cunningham relieved Grudzielanek to start the fifth inning.

The newly minted pitching duo took on the bulk of the responsibility in the circle, totaling 20.2 of the Cats' 25 innings pitched despite having smaller roles during the regular season.

NU's only hit came in the sixth inning by sophomore outfielder Angela Zedak doubled off the left field wall in her final collegiate hit.

The Cats struggled to put the ball in play in the circle against Big 12 Freshman of the Year Teagan Kavan. Kavan posted a career-high 12 strikeouts, with four NU batters striking out twice during the game.

Down to their final three outs, freshman catcher Emma Raye and sophomore infielder Bridget Donahey went to the ground swinging, and Cunnea popped up to end the game.

After completing their 2024 season, the Cats will look to their young roster to build on this year's postseason run.

“They don’t want to stop after today,” Drohan said. “We still have work to do, but I think they’re hungry for it too.”

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