Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Softball: Northwestern looks to avenge ’09 losses to No. 18 Illinois

Coach Kate Drohan doesn’t like to talk about her team’s games last year against Illinois, and for good reason.

The 2009 Wildcats lost both contests against the Illini in dramatic fashion, falling victim to walk-off home runs in both games.

Northwestern will look to return the favor this weekend as it plays host to the No. 18 Illini in Evanston in a two-game series Saturday and Sunday afternoons. It will be only the second weekend the Cats (16-11) have played in the friendly confines of Sharon J. Drysdale Field all year.

“It’s great to play in Evanston,” Drohan said. “There’s no question about that.”

Despite the home-field advantage, the Cats may have their hands full. Illinois (24-4) boasts the top offense in the Big Ten; the Illini are batting .331, 36 points higher than the next best squad. They also lead the conference in slugging percentage and runs scored.

NU’s pitching staff, which has allowed five or more runs in four of its last five games, will have to improve this weekend. Senior ace Lauren Delaney said the Cats need to eliminate walks and clean up their defensive play.

“All of us need to trust ourselves out there,” Delaney said.

But NU’s intrastate rival isn’t a one-sided squad by any means. Illinois’ pitching staff has compiled a 1.99 ERA this season, good for second in the conference. Despite a lineup stacked with power hitters, NU’s best bet may be another approach.

Freshmen Kristin Scharkey and Emily Allard have emerged as slap-hitting threats at the top of the lineup. They boast the top two batting averages on the team, respectively.

“Our coach likes to describe the slappers as the table setters,” Allard said. “It’s basically our job to get on base and just get things started for the big hitters.”

Much of the slappers’ success has come from their ability to make solid contact.

“We don’t necessarily have to hit it into the grass just to get a hit,” Allard said. “Just putting the ball in play and making the opponent work-it puts a lot of pressure on them.”

Junior Robin Thompson, a slap hitter at the bottom of the order, contributes to the versatility of NU’s game. Together, the three slappers have combined for 43 steals in 45 attempts. Allard credits their success to more than speed.

“We focused a lot on our starts,” she said. “We’re blessed with quickness, but at the same time you just kind of got to find it within yourself to say, ‘I’m not going to get thrown out on this pitch.'”

Drohan’s slap hitters have helped balance NU’s offense, integrating more small ball into the game plan.

“With advancing runners with ground balls, scoring runs on ground balls, then stealing bases-that has really added a lot to our offense,” Drohan said. “Then we come up with a big long ball. That kind of balance and production throughout our lineup has truly been our spark.”

NU’s slap hitters will be paramount to keeping the lineup red-hot this weekend against Illinois. With a Big Ten-leading 93 percent success rate on the base paths, Drohan could send her base runners off to the races against the Illini.

“They’re excited when they get the sign,” she said.

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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881
Softball: Northwestern looks to avenge ’09 losses to No. 18 Illinois