Softball: Northwestern swept by Illinois

Colin Becht

In reflecting on Northwestern’s two walk-off losses to Illinois last year, coach Kate Drohan said definitively last week that her team would be “ready to play this weekend.” While the Wildcats may have been mentally prepared to take on the No. 18 Fighting Illini, they were outmatched on the field.

NU (16-13, 2-2 Big Ten) dropped both games to Illinois (26-4, 2-1 Big Ten) this weekend, falling 13-1 on Saturday and 8-4 on Sunday. In both games, the Cats hung with the Illini early, but NU could not contain Illinois’ high-powered offense.

“We’re just in a funk right now,” freshman pitcher Meghan Lamberth said. “We have everything there.”

After three innings of play Saturday, NU and Illinois were locked in a 1-1 tie thanks to an RBI double by junior Michelle Batts. Despite seven Illinois batters reaching base in those three innings, senior pitcher Lauren Delaney managed to get the Cats out of tight situations, stranding six runners on base.

But after three innings of dodging bullets and stranding runners, Delaney’s luck ran out. The Illini-who lead the Big Ten in batting average, slugging percentage, and runs scored-broke through for four runs in the fourth inning before Lamberth relieved Delaney.

Illinois added another run in the fifth inning on a sacrifice fly by Hope Howell, before the flood gates broke in the sixth. With each of the first seven Illinois batters reaching base against Lamberth on just four hits, the Illini pushed the score to 13-1.

The game was called due to the mercy rule after the Cats went down silently in their half of the sixth.

NU once again hung with the Illini through three innings Sunday with a pitchers’ duel brewing between Delaney and Pepper Gay of Illinois.

After not allowing a hit in the first three innings, Delaney surrendered her first two base-knocks of the game in the fourth. The hits, combined with two errors- including the first of the season by centerfielder Kelly Dyer-allowed Illinois to take a 2-0 advantage.

The Illini added two more runs in the top of the fifth inning on an RBI double by Hollie Pinchback, who later scored on a passed ball.

Despite spotting Illinois a 4-0 lead, the Cats were unfazed, and their three-run fifth brought the game within one run. Sophomore infielder Adrienne Monka delivered an RBI single to center that drove Gay from the game. Batts wasted no time getting to new pitcher Monica Perry, singling to left field to drive in another run. When senior infielder Nicole Pauly drew a walk with the bases loaded, the Cats had come to within one run.

Illinois put the game beyond reach with four runs in the top of the seventh, highlighted by a two-run home run by Meredith Hackett, the only homer of the two-game series.

NU mustered one run in its final at bat on an RBI single by Dyer, but the Cats were unable to put together a rally and avoid the sweep.

NU gave Illinois batters 16 free passes, including 13 by Delaney in eight and one-third innings, over the weekend

“We’re giving up too many bases,” Drohan said. “Our defense has been put under a lot of pressure … We just have to work ahead in the count and really start making some key pitches in some key moments.”

The Cats will look to return to their winning ways Wednesday when they play a double-header against Iowa in Iowa City, Iowa.

“Basically, we’ve just got to work harder,” Batts said. “There’s nothing stopping us except for ourselves.”[email protected]