Softball: Cats bounce back to split series with Spartans

Josh Walfish

For a second straight series Northwestern’s resiliency was put to the test.

NU (20-11, 2-4 Big Ten) responded to a 13-4 drubbing in the first game of a doubleheader Wednesday to knock off Michigan State (21-18, 3-7) 4-2 in the second game.

Last season the Wildcats took both games in the series in five-inning games, but it was the Spartans who were able to win this year by way of the run-rule.

The Spartans scored three runs in the top of the first off of senior pitcher Jessica Smith when catcher Brett Williams hit a three-run shot off of Smith. Michigan State added five in the second capped off by a grand slam by third baseman Ali Grant that went off the glove of senior left fielder Jordan Wheeler.

“I have to give Michigan State credit,” coach Kate Drohan said. “They have a lot of good hitters. They capitalized when they needed to.”

Smith was chased after 2.1 innings, in which she gave up nine runs, all earned, and seven hits. She only threw 38 strikes in 72 pitches and walked four batters. It was Smith’s shortest start of the year, her previous shortest being a 3.1 inning performance against Texas A&M on Feb. 26.

The Cats’ offense was nonexistent for most of the day. NU went down one-two-three in both the first two innings, before sending all nine batters to the plate in the bottom of the third. In the third they scored four runs on four hits to cut the Spartan lead to 10-4, but that was as close as they came. The Cats left five runners on base in the last two innings, including a bases-loaded ground ball by junior first baseman Adrienne Monka that hit sophomore shortstop Emily Allard for the third out.

The second game started better for the Cats, as freshman Sammy Albanese looked composed in the circle for NU, stranding three Michigan State runners in the first two innings to keep the game scoreless. However, the Spartans still scored the game’s first run in the top of the third inning.

Taking the 1-0 deficit into the bottom of the fifth inning, the Cats got their bats going to take their first lead of the day. Allard hit an RBI single to tie the game at one, but the biggest hit came off of Monka’s bat. With two outs and Allard on second, Monka drove a ball deep into left field and knocked it off Welsh-Ryan Arena to give NU the 3-1 lead.

“Our mindset is that we can score a lot of runs at any time,” Monka said.

The most crucial thing that made the Cats successful in the second game, though, was their ability to bounce back from a disappointing loss. The time between games one and two allowed NU to refocus.

“In between we decided to change,” senior third baseman Robin Thompson said. “It was a mental shift. We needed to be more aggressive and needed to work to win.”

The quick turnaround NU showed after losing game one of the doubleheader both Saturday against Wisconsin and Wednesday versus Michigan State was not a surprise to Drohan. Drohan said her team was “very resilient and driven to win,” but that the players need to control the game from the first pitch.

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