Unlucky break sidelines Muran’s ferocious offense (Softball)

Brian Sumers

After suffering through four Big Ten losses to start the season, senior third baseman Cindy Muran was determined to lift the Northwestern (21-11, 3-5 Big Ten) softball team out of its slump.

The veteran infielder’s offensive prowess helped the Wildcats sweep Saturday’s doubleheader against Ohio State (17-12, 2-2) at Drysdale Field. After hitting .235 in the first 29 games, Muran recorded three hits in five at-bats in the two games, including a mammoth solo home run to lead off the top of the fifth inning in the second contest.

But during the bottom of the fifth, Muran caught an unlucky break while trying to field a sharply hit line drive. The ball hit her right index finger, and she was forced to leave the game.

“I didn’t react in time,” Muran said. “It’s not broken, just bruised. As soon as the swelling goes down, I’ll play.”

Muran sat out Sunday’s doubleheader against Penn State and said she’s not sure she will be able to return to action for next weekend’s games at Indiana and Purdue.

Even if she can’t field her position next week, coach Kate Drohan said she’ll still try to find a way to make sure Muran can swing her hot bat.

“We’ll cast it up or do something,” she said.

Cats un’chain’ed: While Muran and her teammates didn’t seem to know it, both of NU’s wins against Ohio State came against one of the best pitchers in the Big Ten.

In both games, the Cats rocked Katie Chain, Ohio State’s career strikeout leader. Although the senior hurler failed to fan a single NU batter, she came into the series with 632 strikeouts in 622 innings.

Chain brought a 7-5 record and 1.20 ERA into this weekend’s meeting against NU. Last month, after beating No. 7 Cal State Fullerton and No. 6 California, she won Big Ten Pitcher of the Week honors.

But against NU’s offensive onslaught, Chain struggled. During her short relief appearance in game one, NU hitters smacked four hits and plated three runs.

Chain started the second game, but she didn’t fare any better. In one inning of work, she allowed three hits and four runs.

Though Chain had recently received a shot for her inflamed right hand, she credited NU’s offense, not her injury, for her problems.

“They hit the ball hard,” she said. “Even with the outs that I was able to get, they were able to hit the ball very hard.”

Drohan said she wasn’t aware of Chain’s school record but said she was pleased with her team’s success against an elite Big Ten pitcher.

“I liked how aggressive our girls were,” she said.

Cold Comfort: Ten NU players are from California, one is from Hawaii and another comes from Arizona, so most of the Cats didn’t grow up playing in 30-degree temperatures. But on Saturday, they had no problem winning in the cold.

“As the starting lineup was being announced in the first game I was like, ‘Man do they know it’s 13 degrees wind chill?'” Drohan said.

But on her recruiting visits to the West Coast, Drohan said she warns prospective NU players about the chilly temperatures.

“The first thing I do is show them a picture of snow in the yearbook,” she said. “And I say, if you can’t handle this, you better stop looking.”

Senior pitcher Lauren Schwendimann, a Tustin, Calif. native, said she doesn’t even notice the cold when she’s on the mound.

“We looked at the weather as an advantage for us,” she said. “We like to think that they were colder than we were.”

Though Ohio State’s March 30 doubleheader against Purdue was cancelled because of below freezing temperatures, Drohan never planned to cancel any of the weekend’s games.

“We know Coach would never let us not play — unless it was a blizzard,” senior outfielder Brett Nakabayshi said.