Softball: Wildcats cool Flames at the ‘J’

Colin Becht

In the third inning Wednesday, junior Michelle Batts lined a ball just foul down the first baseline so hard Illinois-Chicago’s Brooke Frydendall ducked. An inning later, junior Jordan Wheeler hit a screamer that nearly took shortstop Teresa Aguilar’s glove along with it into leftfield.

After struggling mightily at the plate in a 3-2 loss to Loyola last Thursday, Northwestern has returned to form.

Behind clutch hitting and a strong outing from senior pitcher Lauren Delaney, the Wildcats (22-19) doused the Flames (17-30), 6-1, on Wednesday at Sharon J. Drysdale Field.

“We’re really starting to understand the moments in the game where we need to step up and control it,” coach Kate Drohan said. “We do that by staying relaxed at the plate.”

Batts said the success at the plate has stemmed from waiting for the right pitches.

“We’re having really good pitch selection,” she said.

Batts led the hot hitting, going 2-for-3 with three RBIs. After NU fell behind 1-0 in the first inning on a home run by Stephanie Chavez, Batts quickly erased the deficit with a base hit to score Kristin Scharkey and Adrienne Monka.

In the circle, Delaney recovered from a rocky first inning to pitch her 14th complete game of the season. After allowing three hits in the first, including the home run and a double, Delaney surrendered just two more hits the rest of the game. She also pitched out of jams in the third and sixth.

“(In the first inning) I was just getting the jitters out of my system,” Delaney said. “I got more comfortable as the game went on every inning.”

Drohan said Delaney’s best feature Wednesday was not her power fastball, but rather her off-speed pitches.

“She got a little more aggressive from the mound,” Drohan said. “I really like how she worked her off-speed today. That was key.”

Crucial to Delaney’s recent success-she has won her last two starts, pitching complete games in both-has been her improved accuracy. Delaney walked 22 batters while losing four consecutive decisions in early April, yet has walked just three batters in her past two starts.

Delaney said her newfound control has come from “clearing her head and just going out there and throwing strikes.”

While the Cats have had little trouble hitting balls out of the park this season, the Big Ten’s second-best home run hitting team did not have a single extra base hit Wednesday. Instead, NU relied on clutch hitting.

In the fourth, two-out hitting turned a meager one-run inning into a four-run rally that gave the Cats their commanding 6-1 lead. Monka, Batts and Nicole Pauly each reached base with two outs to extend the inning, bringing in three runs.

Monka hit a seeing-eye grounder that found a hole between third and short, driving in Wheeler and Robin Thompson. The sophomore infielder finished the game 1-for-2 with two RBIs and two runs scored.

“Our power hitters did a great job of hitting tough pitches and turning them into RBIs,” Drohan said. “Once we had the pressure on with runners in scoring position, I was just really pleased with our at bats.”

Winners of four of its last five, NU looks to continue its wave of success this weekend when it hosts Penn State for a two-game set.

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