Delaney’s arm leads NU past pair of Big Ten foes

Matt Forman

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While Northwestern lacrosse opened its new stadium to a full house, the same cannot be said for NU softball. The No. 16 Wildcats played their first game in renovated Sharon J. Drysdale Field last Friday while most students were home for Spring Break. Despite the small crowd, the team came through with a 10-0, five-inning thrashing of the visiting Wisconsin Badgers, the first of four wins to kick off the Big Ten season.

Juniors Tammy Williams and Erin Dyer each tallied three RBIs in the win, while sophomore ace Lauren Delaney pitched her fourth career no-hitter and third of the season. Delaney is the first Cat to record three no-hitters in a season since 1987.

“I’m feeling pretty good right now, but there’s always stuff to improve on,” said Delaney, who has a 1.99 ERA on the season. “I think I’m dealing pretty well.”

NU won its second conference game of the season with a 4-3 win over Wisconsin, getting all of its offensive output in one swing of the bat. Dyer hit a grand slam in the bottom of the third inning, enabling Delaney to cruise to her 13th win of the year.

The Cats then played a doubleheader on Sunday against Minnesota. In the first game, the Golden Gophers took a 2-1 lead in the top of the sixth, but sophomore Emily Haug smashed a three-run, walk-off home run as the Cats rallied for a 5-2 victory.

In the nightcap, NU fell behind early 8-2, but scored 15 unanswered runs highlighted by two Williams grand slams. Her eight RBIs tied NU’s single-game record.

“When we were behind in the second game, everyone was saying how we’ve got to protect the ‘J’,” freshman Michelle Batts said, referring to Sharon J. Drysdale Field. “It’s our home and we’re not letting people push us around.”

The come-from-behind win highlighted a strong start that Batts said should continue in the coming weeks.

“Starting 4-0 was huge,” she said. “I think it makes other teams fear us and it definitely gives us confidence.”

Though the Cats began their conference schedule undefeated, they were not as successful before the start of Big Ten play. NU traveled to Honolulu, Hawaii for a four-game set in the Bank of Hawaii Invitational. The Cats defeated California 8-0 in their first game but lost the next three, including a 1-0 loss to the Golden Bears. Going into conference play, NU had lost six of its last seven games. In the six losses, the normally high-powered offensive attack stalled, scoring just four runs, including a three-game stretch where NU failed to score a single run.

“I think that we had to adjust what we were doing because clearly it wasn’t working,” Williams said. “We had to go back to what we do best. That was the main difference. We’re an aggressive team, and putting the ball hard in play is what we do best. We got back to that this (past) weekend.”

In the four conference games last weekend, NU scored 36 runs, taking pressure off the pitching staff.

“We knew it was a new page in the season,” Delaney said. “We wanted to get off to a fresh start in conference and redeem ourselves.”

Williams said a return to the team’s old approach could not have come at a better time.

“The new stadium is amazing,” she said. “Coming out and playing our game, playing like we know how on our new field was a great, great feeling. We were playing for all of our fans and our parents and our friends.”

With nearly half of the regular season schedule completed, NU will play two non-conference games this week before a two game set at Ohio State. There, Delaney will put her 4-0 Big Ten record on the line.

“Hopefully we can run the table,” she said. “That’s what we’re going to try to do.”