One-hit wonders propel NU (Softball)

Andrew Simon

Eileen Canney rolled snake eyes this weekend, but it was the Wildcats who came away with the pot.

No. 16 Northwestern (22-8) went 4-0 in its opening weekend of Big Ten play against Wisconsin and Iowa at Sharon J. Drysdale Field, riding the junior hurler’s pair of one-hitters and an explosive offensive attack.

The Cats crushed the Badgers on Friday and Saturday before nabbing both ends of a doubleheader against the Hawkeyes on Sunday. Two of the four contests ended early due to the eight-run mercy rule, as NU pounded its opponents by a total margin of 41-6.

NU opened up with a weekend sweep last year en route to a 14-game winning streak to begin its conference slate.

“We definitely have a lot of momentum heading into the rest of the Big Ten season now,” said Canney, who threw a no-hitter in the team’s conference opener last season. “It’s exciting to see what we’re capable of because we have really high expectations for ourselves.”

In her two starts over the weekend, Canney did her part to validate those expectations, twirling two masterful performances. Only a fifth-inning single Friday and a seventh-inning home run Sunday kept Canney from her second and third no-hitters in her last four starts.

Using a devastating mixture of pitches and locations to keep the hitters guessing, Canney gave up just one run in 12 innings, whiffing 20 along the way to improve her record to 10-4.

“She’s got great presence on the mound,” coach Kate Drohan said. “I love how she just takes it pitch-by-pitch and attacks the hitters.”

Canney, along with senior pitcher Courtnay Foster, who also won two games on the weekend, got plenty of assistance from NU’s relentless offensive barrage. In 22 innings at the plate, the Cats scorched the ball all over the field, racking up 41 hits, including 11 that cleared the fence.

NU received offensive contributions from throughout its entire lineup, but it was an old familiar face and a couple of fresh ones leading the charge.

Junior first baseman Garland Cooper, the reigning Big Ten Player of the Year, had a red-hot weekend. The All-American went 8 for 12 with three homers and eight RBIs and also picked up four doubles to move into first on NU’s career list with 42.

“The Big Ten season is a lot of fun,” Cooper said. “It’s easy to get pumped up. I feel like I’ve been hitting well all season but now I feel like I’m in the zone.”

With the exception of Cooper, the offense was largely youth-driven, benefiting from the torrid bats of freshmen Tammy Williams and Erin Dyer.

Williams, a shortstop, has given the club tremendous production from the lead-off spot, leading the team in batting average. She showed no signs of slowing over the weekend, going 8-13 with four long balls and nine RBIs.

“Tammy hits the ball hard a lot,” Drohan said. “She’s a very powerful hitter. She also plays really hard and has worked a lot the last two quarters to get where she is.”

Perhaps the most impressive single game performance came from right fielder Erin Dyer. In her first three at-bats Friday, Dyer launched a grand slam, smoked a three-run double and drove in another run with a single. That gave her a school single-game record eight RBIs and left her just a triple short of the cycle.

“I struggled a bit at the beginning of the season because I had to get used to the pitching at this level,” Dyer said, “but I’m much more comfortable at the plate now.”

“The whole team is amped up,” Cooper said. “Everyone is seeing the ball better. Everyone is being aggressive, and the whole team is coming through.”

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