Softball: After blowing two late leads, NU looks to solve closing woes

Josh Walfish

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After blowing leads in both its games over the weekend, Northwestern needs to learn how to finish a softball game, coach Kate Drohan knows.

“The big innings have been really haunting us this Big Ten season,” coach Kate Drohan said. “What I would really like to see is some grit and some aggressiveness in that moment and we didn’t do that.”

NU (20-13, 2-6 Big Ten) gave up two-run leads in the sixth and seventh innings on Saturday to send its game with Iowa (24-16, 7-3) to extra innings. In the extra frame freshman pitcher Sammy Albanese gave up a walk-off two-run homer as NU lost 10-8.

The game did not start out well for the Cats as the Hawkeyes jumped out to a first-inning 1-0 lead. In the frame Iowa loaded the bases with one out against Jessica Smith, but the senior hurler limited the Hawkeyes to one run.

Smith had a tough day in the circle, giving up 10 hits and six runs, only two of those earned, in six innings of work. Still, she was in line for the win until Albanese blew the save opportunity in the seventh.

“We gave them too many opportunities,” Drohan said. “We let them get on and we couldn’t come up with the big defensive stop.”

NU scored two runs in the fourth and fifth and took a 5-3 lead into the bottom of the sixth. Iowa responded with a three spot in the frame with all three runs being unearned. Senior Michelle Batts answered the Hawkeyes rally by herself as she sent a bomb over the right field fence to give the Cats an 8-6 lead.

“We got the momentum back,” Batts said. “The game was going our way offensively.”

The momentum did not last long, though, as the Hawkeyes picked up three hits and two runs off of Albanese to tie the game at eight. In the eighth Albanese plunked a batter before giving up the walk-off jack.

In the second game of the series on Sunday, the Cats fell into the same habits they exhibited Saturday. Once again the Cats jumped out a large lead and once again one disastrous inning cost them the game.

“We just kind of lost a little bit of focus for a split second,” junior first baseman Adrienne Monka said.

Batts was at a loss for words about the meltdown.

“It was a tough game,” Batts said. “I can’t really explain how it happened.”

NU put up three runs in both the third and fourth to take a commanding 7-1 lead into the bottom of the fourth inning. In that half-inning the wheels fell off for the Cats, as the Hawkeyes used two hits and two Wildcat errors to score eight runs. Of those eight runs, only two were earned as Albanese picked up her second loss in as many days.

The lone bright spot of the day for NU was the play of reserve outfielder Mari Majam. The freshman stepped in and went 4-for-4 at the dish, including a bases-clearing triple in the third inning. Majam started because of an injury to freshman second baseman Marisa Bast, who left the game on Saturday early after colliding with a runner.

“Mari did very well offensively today, ” Drohan said.

Bast was held out of Sunday’s game for precautionary reasons and will be re-evaluated on Monday.

The disappointing weekend places NU in second-to-last place in the conference with only next weekend’s opponent, Ohio State, below it. The team will look to shake off their troubles when they head to UIC on Wednesday night.