Softball: Lineup switch helps spark 9-game streak

Rodger Sherman

It’s probably a stretch to say a tiny lineup tweak revitalized a struggling offense – but it makes for a nice coincidence.

A day after her team’s record dropped to a respectable 11-7 on the season with a loss to Oklahoma, coach Kate Drohan swapped sophomore speedster Robin Thompson and senior Tammy Williams around in the batting order, inserting Thompson into what had been Williams’ leadoff spot.

“Robin’s on-base percentage was through the roof, and we really wanted to increase the runs batted in to Tammy,” Drohan said.

Since then, Northwestern is 9-0, with three run-rule victories. The Wildcats have outscored their opponents 62-17 during their streak.

“Batting order is a funny thing,” Drohan said. “The important thing is to keep the people that are hot together.”

Williams in particular has exploded.

She has registered hits in 13 of her last 22 at-bats (.591) and had a streak of five consecutive games with home runs, including a walk-off against Michigan State. She barely missed extending her streak to six with a line drive that hit the wall in left-center about three-fourths of the way up the fence.

Even for Williams, who entered the year with a .412 career batting average and 42 homers, that’s a hot streak. But Williams doesn’t seem to have noticed.

“I just had a few good swings,” Williams said. “I guess.”

Thompson’s performance has been nowhere near the same as Williams’ performance since the switch. But with her knack for getting on base and tremendous speed, Thompson appears to be the consummate leadoff hitter.

The sophomore has a .402 on-base percentage this season and leads the team with 11 stolen bases. Thompson is second on the team with 30 runs scored.

“It’s a different dynamic, but I love it there,” Thompson said of leading off. “I love being able to get a runner on base, I love being able to provide that extra little something for the team.”

Thompson switched from the right side to left side of the plate in the offseason to put her a few feet closer to first and, when leading off, either bunts or slaps at the ball with a running start.

“Her speed alone creates so much pressure for the defense that the defense oftentimes has to hurry,” Drohan said. “So a routine ground ball suddenly becomes a difficult play to make because she makes it down the line so quickly. So with Robin, her goal is just to put the ball in play on the ground.”

In each of the last three games, Thompson and Williams have had innings where both got on base to lead off the inning and came around to score.

“(Thompson) leading off and putting that speed on is incredible,” Williams said. “And then the rest of our lineup is something that nobody wants to face.”

The rest of the lineup makes the Thompson-Williams tandem even more effective. Before the swap, Williams led off while Thompson, who does not pack much power in her 5-foot-1 frame, batted second. Now, she is followed by freshman Adrienne Monka, who leads the team with ten homers, forcing opponents to pitch to Williams.

If they keep winning, they’ll take it.

“It’s worked so far,” Drohan said. “So let’s stick with it.”

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