Freshman hitters pace potent offensive attack

Coley Harvey

Boasting the Big Ten’s third-highest team batting average at .298, No. 15 Northwestern (34-10) has proven this season that it is an offensive force against conference opponents.

“Our offense has been phenomenal this year,” junior pitcher Courtnay Foster said. “We’ve been beating up on pitchers that a lot of people have been struggling with. This has been part of our success throughout this season and in the conference.”

Foster credited the team’s newcomers for pacing the Wildcats offense.

“Our freshmen are really being clutch for us right now,” Foster said.

This can definitely be said of freshman shortstop Stephanie Churchwell.

With two outs in the top of the seventh inning of Sunday’s second game, Churchwell bullied one of those pitchers when on the first pitch, she hit the game-winning home run off Penn State’s Missy Beseres.

Beseres ranks second in the Big Ten with 213 strikeouts this season.

But that home run was not something new to NU’s leadoff hitter.

Churchwell is third on the team with seven home runs. She also has the third-highest batting average in the Big Ten at .408, and she is second in the conference in hits with 64.

Two weeks ago Churchwell was named Big Ten Player of the Week after a 12-for-15 weekend performance against Wisconsin and Minnesota.

Churchwell said it’s easy for her to hit well because of the structure of NU’s roster.

“It helps not having holes in the lineup,” Churchwell said. “One through nine, everyone can hit. Having confidence in everybody makes it a lot easier for us.”

In addition to having confidence in her teammates, Churchwell said hitting in college is different than hitting in high school.

“In college, pitchers have more movement,” Churchwell said. “It’s not just about their (faster) speed; it’s also about being able to track speed and trying to look for a good pitch.”

As NU’s leadoff hitter, Churchwell said she is supposed to work long counts with pitchers and get on base to score runs.

She is second on the team with a .434 on-base percentage.

After experiencing the game’s first at-bat, she said she tells her teammates what the opposing pitcher is throwing.

Churchwell and the Cats will try to see what Notre Dame (35-10) throws at them at 5 p.m. today in South Bend, Ind.

NU initially was scheduled to play a doubleheader against the Fighting Irish, but as a result of Notre Dame having to reschedule conference games this week, the teams will play one game.

On Monday, Notre Dame pitcher Steffany Stenglein pitched a nine-inning, 19-strike out game against Big East rival Seton Hall.

The Fighting Irish however, ended up losing the extra-inning game 2-1.

“(Today) will be a good chance to see their quality pitching,” Churchwell said. “We will try to be patient at the plate and our defense will try to tighten up and be a little more aggressive than usual.”

It was still unclear Monday if coach Kate Drohan, who had to fly home for a family-related issue, would attend today’s game.

Reach Coley Harvey at [email protected]

No. 15 NU (34-10)

vs. Notre Dame (35-10)

5 p.m., today

Ivy Field

South Bend, Ind.

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