Softball: Upset-minded Northwestern goes up against Michigan

Dave Uberti

After losing five consecutive games, coach Kate Drohan said Tuesday “one big hit” was all her ball club needed to turn the corner and vie for contention in the Big Ten.

On Wednesday, the Wildcats may have found that hit.

In the second game of Northwestern’s doubleheader against Minnesota, sophomore slugger Adrienne Monka launched a two-run home run over the fence in left-center and onto the roof of McGaw Hall. The shot-only the fourth time a ball has reached the roof-put an exclamation point on The Cats’ sweep of the Gophers. And it couldn’t have come at a better time.

NU (18-16, 4-3 Big Ten) travels to Ann Arbor, Mich., this weekend to take on No. 2 Michigan (31-5, 7-0), which has won 23 of its last 24 games. The series will be the first of three straight road sets for the Cats.

Monka’s shot was one of three homers NU hit Wednesday, a 19-run explosion. Power hitting-an integral part of the team’s success earlier this season-was sorely lacking during the Cats’ recent five-game skid. Senior catcher Emily Haug also hit a home run Wednesday, adding to the power display. To compete with Michigan’s high-octane offense this weekend, the Cats will need to see more of the same.

The matchup between Michigan and NU-two of the most powerful teams in the conference-may just turn into a home run derby. Last year, the long ball played a crucial role in NU’s series against then-No.8 Michigan, leading to a pair of one-run victories.

“Our focus this weekend is for us to continue to play our game,” Drohan said. “And pay attention and focus on the little things that make a difference in a ball game.”

The Wolverines’ lineup boasts its own home run-hitting slugger. Junior Dorian Shaw leads the conference in home runs and RBI’s, hitting .365 in the process. She hits in the middle of the order that is tops in the conference in a bevy of offensive categories: hits, runs, slugging percentage and home runs.

But Michigan’s offensive fire power extends far beyond Shaw. Senior Maggie Viefhaus and sophomore Stephanie Kirkpatrick have hit 12 and 10 home runs, respectively.

Another concern for NU this weekend will be Michigan’s ability to draw walks. The Wolverines are second in the Big Ten, averaging nearly four bases on balls per game.

Free passes have been a problem for ace Lauren Delaney, although she showed signs of improvement Wednesday. The senior walked only three in five innings of work while allowing no earned runs.

“(The pitching staff is) just trying to be really aggressive and lead our team right now,” pitcher Jessica Smith said. “Because that’s what we need.”

After allowing 13 runs in five innings against Alabama, Smith also showed improvement Wednesday. The junior struck out six and earned a complete game victory. The Cats will need both pitchers to continue this recent success in order to compete with the Wolverines.[email protected]