staff, staff, May 16, 2015

Northwestern's 2015 season came to a close Saturday at the NCAA South Bend Regional following a loss to No. 16 overall seed and Region host Notre Dame at Melissa Cook Stadium.

After dropping a tight, entertaining 5-4 battle with Kentucky in the opening round of the tournament Friday, NU's year simply ran out of gas in a 14-5 (5) run-rule decision Saturday against the 21st ranked Irish.

Northwestern concludes the season with a 28-23 overall record after qualifying for its 10th NCAA Tournament field in the last 14 years. The Wildcats faced the nation's sixth-toughest nonconference schedule in 2015 and started the year 3-9 overall before bouncing back to go 17-2 in their next 19 games. Down the stretch, several 'Cats stepped up into unfamiliar roles to fill in for teammates and keep Northwestern rolling into the postseason.

With Northwestern the home team for this game at Notre Dame's home park, the Irish had the first at-bats and took the game's first lead. With one out and a runner at third against NU starter Amy Letourneau (Laguna Niguel, Santa Margarita Catholic), Notre Dame got an RBI single up the middle before a pair of walks loaded the bases. Olivia Duehr (Antioch, Ill./Antioch) quickly entered the circle in relief, getting a groundout that did drive in one run before ending the frame with a pop up to keep the Wildcats' deficit at just two runs, 2-0.

In the second, the Irish broke the game open early with a grand slam, part of a five-run rally that left Notre Dame on top, 7-0.

In an NCAA Tournament elimination game, Northwestern refused to go quietly into the season's sunset. Freshman Sammy Nettling (Tucson, Ariz./Canyon del Oro) led off the bottom of the second with a double over the third-base bag, with left fielder Fran Strub (Coralville, Iowa/Clear Creek Amana) flexing into the lineup to run. After Notre Dame's second baseman made a tremendous play up the middle to rob senior Julia Kuhn (Middletown, N.J./Middletown South) of a single, Letourneau smashed a one-hop double up against the fence in left to bring Strub home to make the score 7-1.

The rally ended, unfortunately, when senior Anna Edwards (La Canada, Calif./La Canada) smashed a line drive hard into left where the ball was caught before a runner was doubled up.

Notre Dame got a sacrifice fly and couple of two-out hits in the top of the third to push the game into run-rule territory, 10-1. The inning ended when freshman second baseman Brooke Marquez (Garden Grove, Calif./Pacifica) ranged up the middle to backhand a ball, flipping the ball with her glove hand to Andrea Filler (Fort Wayne, Ind./Bishop Dwenger) covering second for a web gem worthy play.

Northwestern rallied again in the third, beginning with a Marquez walk. The freshman raced to second when Sabrina Rabin (St. Charles, Ill./St. Charles North) was called out after beating the ball to first base on a grounder to second, then moved to third on an Andrea DiPrima (Arlington Heights, Ill./Buffalo Grove) single. A pop out followed by a diving play on a Nettling grounder at third, however, prevented NU from cutting into the lead.

Kristen Wood (Trevor, Wis./Wilmot Union) entered the circle in relief in the top of the fourth, but Notre Dame still managed to tack on three more runs. Notre Dame made its own pitching change in the bottom of the fourth, but NU could not get to the new hurler.

The Irish added their final run of the game with a solo homer in the fifth before the Wildcats put together one last rally. With two outs in the bottom of the fifth, DiPrima crushed a single to left followed by a Filler walk. Nettling then put a ball in play to short that resulted in an error, allowing pinch runner Krista Williams (Pleasanton, Calif./Amador Valley) to score.

The play gave Kuhn a final at-bat, and she made the most of the opportunity, smashing a three-run home run for her sixth of the year and a 14-5 score. Letourneau followed with a single, but that was all the further the NU rally would get.

Letourneau (11-10) took the loss, allowing two runs on a hit and two walks in one-third of an inning. Duehr, a career outfielder for Northwestern, threw 2.2 innings of relief in her final NU contest while Wood tossed 2.0 frames, as well.

DiPrima finished with a pair of hits in her final collegiate contest to lead the NU offense. Letourneau also had two hits while Kuhn drove in three.