Softball: Conference title tells world NU here to stay

After Northwestern finished an 8-0 run-rule win over Ohio State on Thursday, Buckeyes’ coach Linda Kafilitis suggested NU “started to come alive” once they got rid of “that Canney kid.”

She winked and smiled at former Wildcats pitcher Eileen Canney, who was sitting in on the press conference as a member of the Big Ten Network’s coverage of the tournament.

But after NU trounced Minnesota with a 12-0 victory and held on for a 1-0 win over Iowa in the championship game, maybe Kafilitis is right.

Maybe the Cats’ softball program has come alive since it lost program foundations Canney and Garland Cooper.

The two only set every major record at NU.

Cooper owns the school record for home runs and RBIs, setting a single-season record 23 longballs last year. Canney tied the school record for wins and is second in strikeouts.

Their contributions were vital to the Cats’ back-to-back trips to the Women’s College World Series.

But this team accomplished something those two never did Saturday – taking home the Big Ten tournament championship, the first since the inaugural tournament in 1982.

“I think two things needed to happen that happened this year,” coach Kate Drohan said. “We had some terrific leaders step up and really say we’re not going to take the time to rebuild here. Let’s take advantage of the time we have together now. And the second thing that needed to happen is that our younger players really need to be comfortable playing in the moment and playing in big games like this.”

The leaders stepped in and did their part. Tammy Williams struggled during the weekend but has been a rock in the lineup throughout the season, leading the nation with a .482 batting average entering the weekend.

Even sophomores stepped in to fill leadership roles. Nicole Pauly continued to be a fantastic hitter, leading the team in home runs.

And sophomore Lauren Delaney did more than just relieve Canney, as she did for much of her freshman campaign. Delaney went 34-8 with a 1.57 ERA and took home the Big Ten pitcher of the year award.

Junior catcher Erin Dyer has been the team’s big-game hitter since she belted a home run to force extra innings against Alabama in the team’s first game at the Women’s College World Series her freshman year. She came through again in the clutch this weekend, providing leadership defensively as the catcher and in the batter’s box.

Her fourth-inning home run gave the Cats all the offense it needed to win the conference tournament.

With that one swing, NU proved it was not just a two-hit wonder, but a softball power for the foreseeable future.

The championship comes from a team which is not rebuilding, but reloading.

It was Cats’ balance – young and old, underclassman and upperclassman – which helped the team earn the No. 11 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

“It’s a real good feeling to get that one run and finish the game like we did,” Erin Dyer said. “All week at practice our thing was to finish and I think we did that today.”

The Cats have had a short memory all season, taking their bumps and bruises as a young team. They are ready to make the next step for a relatively new program on the national scene.

Be sure no team wants to see purple in the NCAA Tournament.

Assistant Sports Editor Philip Rossman-Reich is a Medill sophomore. He can be reached at [email protected]