Saturday’s scoreboard read Northwestern 8, Nebraska 2.
For the second straight day, the Wildcats’ pitching handcuffed the Husker bats, and the Cats’ offense put some distance between the two teams over the last half of the game.
Northwestern won the game and the series, but Nebraska softball coach Rhonda Revelle’s immediate objective goes beyond wins and losses after the Huskers' offensive and defensive struggles crept back up.
“It’s a mentality shift,” Revelle said moments after the team met for more than 20 minutes after Saturday's game at Bowlin Stadium. “I’m not concerned about the scoreboard right now. I’m concerned about the mind, the mindset of this program, and that’s what we’re coaching.”
Less than 24 hours after freshman Danielle Williams spun a three-hit, complete-game gem against the Huskers, Northwestern sophomore Kenna Wilkey (7-2) followed with a complete game of her own. The right-hander, using her change-up to lock up hitters, scattered five hits and struck out seven.
Though the final 8-2 tally doesn’t reflect it, Nebraska had its chances to even the series.
The Huskers loaded the bases with one out in the first inning and came up empty. They loaded the bases again in the fifth — this time with no outs — and Wilkey escaped by striking out the next three batters.
“Here’s what I said to the team at the end: winners win,” Revelle said after the Huskers dropped to 13-21 overall and 2-6 in the Big Ten. “Our worst at-bats were when we had runners on base, our biggest at-bats when we didn’t, and that’s a mentality, and that’s a mentality that’s got to shift if we’re going to turn this program around, and that’s just the truth.
“You’re in the hole, you’re (on) deck, it’s like, 'I’m making a difference. I’m going to get up there and hit something hard.' We may come out with a zero, but it looks different. It’s not a called third (strike), it’s not a swing and miss (when) we got behind 0-2, it’s not that kind of that stuff. I could sit here and say we don’t work on that stuff, but we do work on that stuff.”
Northwestern, on the other hand, was very opportunistic on a sun-drenched afternoon. The Wildcats' first five runs were unearned.
The Wildcats (28-7, 8-0), aided by a misplay on what should have been a routine pop-up earlier in the inning, took a 4-0 lead on a two-out grand slam from freshman Nikki Cuchran in the third.
Nebraska, which ranks last in the Big Ten in fielding, nearly got out of the fourth inning unscathed by attempting to turn a double play, but a Wildcat was called safe at second base after Madi Unzicker stepped on first for an out and threw to second for the attempted third out.
The Wildcats later scored on an error to increase the lead, and they put the game out of reach in the sixth on Rachel Lewis' two-out, two-run shot off the scoreboard in left field.
After producing a combined 42 hits over their previous four games entering the series, the Huskers have been held to eight through two games against Northwestern.
Junior Tristen Edwards, who hit her team-leading 13th homer of the season in the seventh inning, echoed Revelle's thoughts on a change needed in mentality.
“I think it tested us a little bit,” Edwards said of starting off against Williams on Friday. “When you go up against a good pitcher, it’s going to be a dogfight anyway. I think we caved a little bit and we haven’t really punched back from that yet, so I think (Sunday) is going to be a good test on our punch back.”
Freshman Lindsey Walljasper (7-8) took the loss after giving up five runs, none of them earned, in four innings.
Sunday’s series finale is set for noon at Bowlin Stadium.