Softball: Iowa provides tough test for struggling Northwestern

David Uberti

After being swept by No. 18 Illinois last weekend in a series that included a 12-run blowout loss, Northwestern will look to stop the bleeding Wednesday at Iowa.

“(Last weekend) we lost sight of our goal, which was to work together and play every pitch the way we play,” junior designated player Michelle Batts said. “Hopefully we just get back to where we need to be.”

The Wildcats (16-13, 2-2 Big Ten) play their first conference series away from home against the Hawkeyes (18-13, 4-0 Big Ten). The doubleheader will give NU the opportunity to wash away the taste of a rough weekend.

“It’s all in our power,” Batts said. “There are no teams that can dominate us until we get to the World Series.”

Iowa is the only team in the Big Ten that still boasts a perfect conference record after sweeping Michigan State and Indiana. The Hawkeyes have been riding the performance of sophomore Liz Watkins, who is on a seven-game hitting streak. The catcher is hitting .721 during that span, launching four home runs and knocking in 11.

Freshman ace Chelsea Lyon leads the Hawkeyes in the circle. Lyon, who hasn’t allowed an earned run in her last 30.2 innings of work, is 4-0 in her last six appearances. Senior Amanda Zust, who is holding opposing offenses to a .243 mark at the plate, rounds out the rotation.

In Iowa City, Iowa, the Cats will try to regain the offensive swagger that led them to seven wins in the eight games leading up to the Illinois series. Much of that responsibility will fall on the shoulders of sophomore Adrienne Monka, who knocked in 10 RBIs in two games against Iowa last season. The freshman tandem at the top of the lineup, shortstop Emily Allard and rightfielder Kristin Scharkey, will also look to bounce back after a combined 3-for-12 performance over the weekend.

But the key Wednesday for NU will be pitching. The Cats gave up 14 earned runs and 13 walks against Illinois. The pitching staff now ranks third-to-last in the conference in bases on balls. NU’s hurlers are not working efficiently enough, freshman pitcher Meghan Lamberth said.

“(We’re throwing) way too many pitches to way too many batters to win a game,” Lamberth said.

Senior Lauren Delaney, the club’s ace, has struggled with control. Along with issuing 75 free passes this season, the senior has thrown 26 wild pitches and hit 14 batters. Her record fell below .500 after a pair of losses this weekend.

Despite the team’s struggles on the field, coach Kate Drohan maintains her squad has what it takes to win. For Drohan, the team’s main focus needs to be improving its mentality.

“We’ve got to get tougher,” Drohan said. “We’ve got to get a lot more fight in us. We’ve got to get gritty.” [email protected]