Softball: Wildcats power past gophers

Colin Becht

After suffering three consecutive run-rule loses, Northwestern returned the favor Wednesday, sweeping Minnesota 10-1 and 9-3.

The Wildcats halted their five-game losing streak, finding their power stroke in the process. After totaling five hits in a two-game series with No. 6 Alabama last weekend, NU (18-16, 4-3 Big Ten) rebounded offensively with 18 base knocks Wednesday.

Pitchers Lauren Delaney and Jessica Smith also bounced back after struggling against Alabama. The duo, who gave up 18 earned runs against the Crimson Tide, held the Gophers (15-27, 1-7) to three scores.

“We’ve just tried to continue to make a couple little things better each day, ” Smith said.

Delaney, who entered Wednesday with four consecutive losing decisions, returned to form in the first game of the day, pitching all five innings to earn her ninth win. After struggling with her control in recent outings, Delaney issued three walks, and her only run allowed was unearned.

The Cats relied on Delaney to keep the game close until the bats came alive. Trailing 1-0 in the third inning, NU posted five runs and never looked back.

Sophomore infielder Adrienne Monka singled in the Cats’ first two runs, and junior Michelle Batts followed with an RBI single of her own. After a double by Nicole Pauly, NU plated two more runs on wild pitches to Emily Haug and Kelly Dyer. The Cats repeated their five-run performance in the next inning, this time using power. Freshman shortstop Emily Allard singled to lead off the inning and scored on Monka’s homer over the leftfield fence. Three batters later, with Batts and Pauly on base, Haug crushed another long ball, giving NU a 10-1 advantage.

Despite loading the bases in the fifth, the Gophers went scoreless, and the Cats completed their third mercy-rule win of the season.

NU couldn’t top its afternoon performance in the nightcap, having to complete all seven innings. It was NU’s first seven-inning contest since April 4.

Smith tossed a complete game to earn the win, allowing only six hits while striking out six.

NU’s No. 2 hurler got early support from her offense, as the Cats’ posted four runs in the first frame. Batts blasted an Alissa Koch delivery to centerfield, but it fell just short of a grand slam. Instead Batts settled for a two-run double.

“(The early run support) was so much fun,” Smith said. “It was really nice to see our hitters get that confidence back.”

The Cats added four more runs in the fourth, which included the most impressive shot of the season. With Allard on third, Monka crushed a pitch from Koch over the left-centerfield wall and onto the roof of McGaw Hall.

Monka became the fourth player in school history to hit a ball onto the roof.

Minnesota finally got on the scoreboard in the fifth when Whitney Erickson’s double fell just beyond the outstretched glove of Kristin Scharkey. The hit drove in Minnesota’s first two runs of the game.

The Gophers added one more score in their half of the seventh, but that was all they would get.

After the Cats struck out 18 times at Alabama, coach Kate Drohan preached patience at this plate.

“We talked a lot about pitch selection,” Drohan said. “And also just really simplifying things in the batter’s box.”

This simplicity paid off for NU, and the Cats nearly cut their strikrouts in half.

“Today we seemed really relaxed,” Monka said.

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