Softball: Cats do little things to break out of early trance

Matt Forman

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After losing its first Big Ten game of the season against Iowa, Northwestern came out Tuesday lacking emotion and intensity against Notre Dame.

Through three innings of play, Fighting Irish starting pitcher Brittney Bargar faced the minimum number of Wildcats hitters possible – nine. In the same amount of time, NU ace Lauren Delaney faced 12 Notre Dame hitters, stranding all three of the extra base runners. But her stuff wasn’t as effective as usual.

“I don’t really know why we came out slow,” coach Kate Drohan said. “It just took us a while to get going today.”

The Cats were cold, but everything changed in the fourth inning. After making several adjustments, Delaney retired the side in order in the top of the fourth on 12 pitches, striking out two Irish batters.

Through her first three innings of work, Delaney ran two three-ball counts. In the remaining four, she had only a pair of two-ball counts and no three-ball counts.

“When you keep that pitch count down, you’re in business,” Drohan said. “And when you work ahead, it’s always a good thing with (Delaney’s) off-speed (pitches).”

Nearly half of Delaney’s 13 strikeouts came on drop balls. The rest came on risers that Irish batters tried to fight off – running for the ball in the batter’s box and doing everything they could to slap at it.

Once Delaney got back on track, so did the potent Cats offense, which exploded for five runs in the bottom of the fourth inning.

“The big thing about today’s game is that we needed to swing at our pitches,” Drohan said. “We were getting behind and chasing her pitches, and we made a really good adjustment in the middle of the game.”

Through the first half of the game, NU worked one three-ball count and two two-ball counts. The remainder of the game, the Cats worked six 3-ball counts and five 2-ball counts.

“We learned about her stuff the first time through,” said Nicole Pauly, who went 2-for-3 with an RBI. “We were a lot more aggressive the next time.”

Pauly held to her words. In her last two at-bats of the game, she swung at five of the eight pitches she saw, fouling three off and putting two in play.

The offensive adjustments and more aggressive approach came full circle for Delaney while working in the circle.

“It’s definitely always good seeing (the offense) get the other pitcher out of the game by being aggressive,” she said. “It gives you confidence pitching and is only a benefit to us.”

While NU made adjustments that paid off, the Cats also did little things well throughout the game. Notre Dame nearly scored in the bottom half of the second inning on a wild pitch. But junior catcher Erin Dyer raced to the backstop, flipping the ball to Delaney covering home for the final out of the inning.

In the fourth, after reaching base on an infield single, junior shortstop Tammy Williams stole second base, forcing the Irish to pitch around powerful three-hole hitter Michelle Batts. In the same inning, Pauly scored from second on an RBI single to right field by sophomore center fielder Kelly Dyer, evading the catcher blocking the plate with a swipe tag.

“Talk about the little things; Pauly’s slide, Tammy’s steal, Delaney covering home on the wild pitch,” Drohan said. “Just all those little things turned into a 5-0 win.”