For the first time in program history, Indiana softball had the chance to play for a Big Ten title. Team 50 played regular-season champion Northwestern in the Big Ten Tournament championship game Saturday afternoon.
After the start of the game was moved up by a half hour with pending inclement weather, No. 2 Indiana lost a heartbreaker to No. 1 Northwestern 2-1, falling three outs short of its first Big Ten championship.
Indiana led 1-0 after six and a half innings, but a rally from the Wildcats propelled them to their first Big Ten title in 15 years.
The first meeting this season between the two schools turned out to be a pitchers’ duel. Indiana sophomore Brianna Copeland and Northwestern graduate Danielle Williams were in the circle for nearly the entire contest.
Williams pitched all seven innings, giving up one unearned run while striking out four, improving to 19-1 in the circle. She was awarded the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.
Copeland started the seventh inning and was unable to record an out, but gave up just one hit in the first six innings, all scoreless. Indiana was the road team for the first time in the tournament, but just like the previous two days, Team 50 struck first.
With runners on second and third base and one out in the top of the third inning, redshirt junior utility player Cora Bassett laid down a bunt. Freshman utility player Cassidy Kettleman was caught in a rundown between third and home, but successfully evaded the attempted tag to score. Indiana led 1-0 in the top of the third.
But Northwestern saved its best for last in the final inning. After only mustering one hit in the first six innings against Copeland, the Wildcats finally got to the Alabama native. The first four hitters in the inning all reached, tying the game 1-1, with no one out. The first two hitters singled, and the next two worked walks. This prompted a pitching change with the bases loaded and the winning run 60 feet away from home plate.
Sophomore Heather Johnson took the ball, hoping to replicate the performance she had in the 5-3 semifinal win over Minnesota — keeping Indiana alive. Johnson pitched 3 ⅔ scoreless innings against the Golden Gophers to earn her 15th win of the season.
The seven-hitter in Northwestern’s lineup, graduate shortstop Maeve Nelson, stood in the right-handed batters box looking to end the game and the tournament.
Down 1-2 in the count, Nelson smoked Johnson’s pitch to deep right-center field. With the outfield playing in, the ball one-hopped the wall, easily allowing the game-winning run to score as Northwestern pulled off the comeback and earned the program’s third Big Ten postseason championship.
For their efforts in the tournament, Copeland, Bassett, sophomore outfielder Taylor Minnick and sophomore utility player Sarah Stone were named to the All-Big Ten Tournament Team. Bassett had the game-tying hit Thursday in the eighth inning against Penn State. Stone hit the walk-off home run an inning later and Minnick hit a home run against Minnesota in Friday’s semifinal.
All is not lost for Team 50, who went from being picked 10th in the annual preseason poll by D1 Softball to three outs away from glory. It won’t be the last game the Hoosiers play this season, as they will wait until Sunday at 7 p.m. EST when the NCAA Selection Show commences to find out where they will play. The event will be televised on ESPN2.