Cats look to keep hot hitting alive against Flames

By Dave Uberti

If Nicole Pauly keeps hitting the way she did last week, Northwestern should have no problem scoring runs.

The senior led the Wildcats to three conference wins, mashing five extra-base hits in four games. Her three home runs during that span not only put her third on NU’s all-time homer list with 51 long balls, but they also helped her earn Big Ten Player of the Week honors.

“I’m a little more relaxed now and I’m looking for the pitches I want to drive,” Pauly said. “When the people in front of me-like (Emily) Allard and (Kristin) Scharkey-when they get on … I take that into the batter’s box and I just keep our momentum going.”

The infielder is finally hitting her stride, posting a .500 batting average in Big Ten play. Pauly and the Cats (21-19) will look to ride their momentum tonight against Illinois-Chicago (17-29) at Sharon J. Drysdale Field.

Pauly is leading an offense that scored a combined 31 runs in its last three conference games. And in a season full of ups and downs, the key for NU today will be to continue playing at the same level.

“As long as we stay aggressive and we remain confident in the box, we’ll keep on winning these games and we’ll be a very hard team to beat down the road,” Pauly said.

NU’s rare blend of speed and power was showcased last week and will be paramount against UIC. The offense combined for seven home runs and six stolen bases last week, mixing small ball with the long ball to perfection.

“However we can score runs, we take that and we run with it,” Pauly said.

If the lineup continues to fire on all cylinders-as it did for most of last week-beating UIC should be no problem for NU.

“(The offense) is pretty much as dangerous as you can get,” sophomore Adrienne Monka said. “It’s really fun when we’re all together, doing what we can do.”

The Cats will be facing a team that has won seven straight games. Outfielder Melinda Macias, who boasts a .371 batting average, leads the Flames’ lineup. But their offense lacks power, as only one UIC player has more than four home runs.

In the circle the Flames rely on freshman Devin Miller. Her 2.27 ERA is good for fifth best in the Horizon League, while her 127 strikeouts rank third. In Miller’s last outing, she struck out 11 through eight innings while only allowing one run.

The key for NU will be to force UIC to use its bullpen. Without Miller, the Flames’ pitching staff has a 4.22 ERA.

NU returns to Big Ten play Saturday with a weekend set against Penn State.[email protected]