National spotlight descends at Drysdale

Andrew Simon

The last time Northwestern and Notre Dame squared off on the diamond, they were fighting for their seasons at the 2005 NCAA Regionals.

When the Irish (26-12) come to Sharon J. Drysdale Field today to tangle with the No. 17 Wildcats (29-10) in a midseason non-conference duel, there will be far less at stake. Nonetheless, both squads will be gunning for each other, looking to win the latest chapter in a developing rivalry.

The combination of the recent history between the two teams and the fact that the game will be nationally televised on CSTV should provide for an intense battle.

“It’s pretty exciting to get a game like this, especially during the regular season,” coach Kate Drohan said. “It should be a great experience for us and a great way to showcase the great softball that’s played in the Midwest.”

It will be the first time this season that NU will play in front of the television cameras, but Drohan said she doesn’t believe the extra attention will be a problem for her team.

“You can’t pretend the cameras aren’t there,” Drohan said. “It’s just a matter of getting used to it. But because of the personality of this team, I think they’ll love it. They’re not shy.”

Until last season, the Irish and the Cats had seen little of each other. But that all changed in 2005, when the squads tangled four times. Notre Dame took the sole regular season battle 4-3 by rallying for four runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to upset NU.

The teams met again at the NCAA Regionals in South Bend, Ind., and again the Irish got the best of the Cats in a close 3-2 contest, knocking NU into the consolation bracket. But the Cats defeated Louisville to stay alive and advance to take on the Irish again, needing to beat them twice in a row to move on to the NCAA Super Regionals.

NU dug deep and took the first game 4-1 behind pitcher Eileen Canney’s sparkling two-hit performance, forcing one final showdown. The Cats surrendered runs in the fifth and sixth innings of that one but held on for the win.

“It was a great step for us as a program,” junior first baseman Garland Cooper said. “It took us to the next level, to the Super Regional. It gave us a chance to go to the College World Series, which got us a lot of recognition.”

However, the rivalry goes beyond the field and is intensified because of the strong parallels between the programs.

“I think the two schools are so similar,” Drohan said. “They’re both academically focused, with big time athletics. In our matchup at Regionals last season, all three games were close. There was a lot of clutch hitting by both teams. They were high energy games.

“We also face each other in recruiting every summer. So we’re familiar with a lot of their players and they’re familiar with a lot of ours.”

Reach Andrew Simon at [email protected]