Play at plate saves NU (Softball)

Brian Sumers

After losing two games in extra innings against No. 15 Michigan on Sunday, the Northwestern softball team wanted to close out Illinois-Chicago early in Wednesday’s game.

But after taking an early four-run lead against the Flames, the Wildcats (18-10, 0-4 Big Ten) narrowly persevered for a 5-4 victory.

“We got a little complacent in the middle innings,” coach Kate Drohan said. “Against a team like that, you need to slam the door in the third or fourth inning and take them totally out of the game.”

Although they fell behind early, the Flames (8-26) kept the game close and nearly tied it in the top of the seventh inning.

Down 5-2 in the final frame, freshman pitcher Courtnay Foster allowed a one-out, bases-loaded single. After senior center fielder Jessie Wellnitz bobbled the ball, two runs scored easily.

Despite her defensive lapse, Wellnitz recovered quickly and rifled the ball to shortstop Robyn Pettinger. The senior infielder made a perfect relay throw to catcher Jamie Dotson.

The throw appeared to arrive late, but the home plate umpire decided that Dotson successfully blocked the runner from reaching the plate.

“There was no way she was getting in,” Dotson said. “In that situation I’d rather sacrifice my body than let her score.”

Dotson’s play in her first catching appearance of the year helped secure the win for NU. Drohan said she wanted to get as many players as possible into Wednesday’s non-conference game.

Dotson replaced junior catcher J.C. Kira, who paced the Cats offensively in the early innings. In the third, Kira bounced a two-run home run off the scoreboard in left field.

Despite the mammoth shot, Kira said she wasn’t even sure where the ball landed. While she acknowledged that most home-run hitters watch their balls go over the fence, she said she isn’t used to sending the ball out of the park.

“I barely ever hit them,” she said. “I usually hit the fence.”

Drohan said she was surprised Kira could hit the ball that far.

“We’ve been teasing J.C. for a couple of years now that she has warning track power,” Drohan said. “She’s finally getting the ball over this year.”

Outfielder Erin Mobley also had a strong day at the plate. The sophomore recorded three of the Cats’ 10 hits and knocked in two runs.

While Drohan said she was pleased with the Cats’ prowess at the plate, she said she was disappointed with Foster’s pitching.

“I want to see Courtnay finish them better,” Drohan said. “I’d really like to see her get her offspeed working.”

But even without the offspeed pitch, Foster tied her career high by striking out 13 Illinois-Chicago hitters. And although she had a rocky seventh inning, she regained her composure after Wellnitz’s error and struck out the final batter of the game.

While Foster recorded the win, she said she’ll have to improve her pitching to beat Big Ten teams.

“I was not satisfied with my game at all tonight,” she said. “I’m not used to cold weather, but you can’t make excuses.”

The team barely escaped the non-conference game with a victory, and the Cats weren’t happy with just slipping by.

“It should have been a blowout,” Dotson said.