Softball: While You Were Gone-Northwestern newcomers carry Wildcats during four-game win streak

Colin Becht

After early inconsistencies, Northwestern has found its stride, literally and figuratively. The Wildcats have relied on speed and clutch hitting to win seven of their past eight games and sweep their first Big Ten series against Purdue.

During its wave of success, NU (16-11, 2-0 Big Ten) has taken a dominant lead in the Big Ten in stolen base percentage, with a .938 success rate. The Cats swiped 61 bags on the year, led by 19 from freshman Emily Allard, last week’s Big Ten Player of the Week.

Allard has emerged as a young talent in the leadoff spot for NU. During the past week, in which the Cats went 4-0, Allard hit for a .643 average with five RBIs and nine runs, tying the school’s single-game record with four runs in NU’s 12-6 victory over Northern Illinois. Allard also was perfect on the base paths, going 8-for-8 in steal attempts.

Allard is the second NU player to receive Big Ten Player of the Week honors, after sophomore infielder Adrienne Monka won the title on Feb. 22.

Allard isn’t the only successful newcomer-classmates Kristin Scharkey and Meghan Lamberth are also hitting their stride. After missing the first 19 games of the season due to injury, Scharkey quickly found her form, hitting .370 over the past eight games with five RBIs. Scharkey also added to NU’s speed on the basepaths, swiping nine bags.

In the circle, Lamberth has posted the team-low ERA of 1.87. Against Northern Colorado, Lamberth demonstrated her potential, throwing her first career shutout to help NU earn a 6-0 victory.

Lamberth allowed five hits while striking out three batters, despite facing the added challenge of pitching indoors. Due to rain and ice, the Cats’ final two games of the DeMarini Invitational in Columbia, Mo., were moved to Missouri’s indoor facility. Though the indoor facility meant a shorter fence in right field, Lamberth had no trouble shutting down the Bears’ offense.

Those two contests were the first games played indoors in the nine years that coach Kate Drohan has coached the Cats.

After routing Northern Colorado, NU suffered its only defeat of the weekend to No. 3 Missouri, falling to the Tigers 5-1. Despite loading the bases twice, the Cats only managed to score one run on an RBI groundout by Emily Haug.

NU picked up two more wins on the weekend in Missouri, defeating Eastern Michigan 6-1 and Ball State 3-2.

The Cats built on their success in the DeMarini Invitational with two more nonconference wins over Southern Illinois-Edwardsville and Northern Illinois. In its conference opener, NU swept Purdue, 4-3 and 9-7.

Senior pitcher Lauren Delaney picked up the victory in both games, striking out 19 batters in 13 innings of work.

In the first game of the series, the Cats relied on Delaney to keep the game close until the bats came alive. With NU trailing 2-1, Monka put the Cats ahead with a two-run shot to center. Senior infielder Nicole Pauly connected on her sixth home run of the season in the bottom of the sixth, giving NU the lead for good.

On Sunday the Cats continued to flex their power with back-to-back home runs by Haug and Pauly. After building a massive 8-0 lead, NU almost let it slip away before Lamberth threw a perfect seventh inning to secure the win.

The Cats return to action this weekend with a two-game series against Big Ten rival No. 18 Illinois at Sharon J. Drysdale Field.[email protected]