Softball: Failure to finish dooms Cats

Josh Walfish

Every athlete will tell you it doesn’t matter how you start, but how you finish. Every coach will say the same thing, but what makes one team finish better than another?

Finishing games was the problem for Northwestern softball this year. The Wildcats held a lead in 12 of their 18 conference matchups and ended up winning only five of those games. To make matters worse, they gave up four runs or more in an inning in four of those seven losses. NU blew a 7-1 lead against Iowa and an 8-3 lead against Wisconsin. This team didn’t seem to want to finish.

Looking at the game against the Badgers, the Cats jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the first two innings. They had multiple opportunities to close the game out against Wisconsin and win by run-rule, but they let the Badgers hang around. The Cats left 11 runners on base in that game while the Badgers stranded just a single runner. NU had 15 hits and scored eight runs. They had no business losing that game, and yet they did.

NU’s trouble finishing didn’t just pertain to games but innings as well. The Cats left 337 runners on base in 43 games played, which equates to almost eight runners per game. The top of the lineup for the Cats was superb at getting on base, but nobody was able to consistently drive them home. Junior first baseman Adrienne Monka was on base more than 70 percent of the time, yet she scored just 24 runs.

Offensively the Cats hit for their best average in program history and had two players break the single-season batting-average record. So the question is, if the ducks are on the pond, who’s going to knock them home?Monka led the team with 47 RBIs, but most of those came before teams decided not to pitch to her. Senior designated player Michelle Batts was next with 37 but had only 11 in conference play.

For all the negatives that come out of a disappointing season, one must look at some of the positives. The biggest upside was the freshmen, who were able to do a respectable job when called upon. Second baseman Marisa Bast started 42 of the 43 games and really blossomed towards the end of the season while hitting in the cleanup spot. Pitcher Sammy Albanese threw a no-hitter and led the team in ERA. Catcher Paige Tonz went from splitting time with sophomore Lauren Ackerman to winning the job outright toward the end of the season, making the last 13 starts behind the plate for the Cats.

I would be remiss if I didn’t include Monka as the other big positive for NU. She was super-human for most of the season. Her .707 on-base percentage, .461 batting average and stretch of 26 straight times where she reached base gave us glimpses of that ability. She was walked 66 times this season, including 12 intentional base on balls. Even when the Cats seemed to be having a bad day, Monka provided a bright light with her consistently excellent play.

The 2012 version of the Cats will have some large holes to fill. NU loses Robin Thompson, Jordan Wheeler and Kelly Quinn, who provided great defense at the hot corner, and in left and right field, respectively. They lose their designated player who ranks in the top-five all-time in many program hitting stats, and they lose a pitcher in Jessica Smith, who got her mojo going towards the tail end of the season. The five seniors are a big loss to this program, but with four talented freshmen entering in the fall, next year’s Cats will look to return the program to the place where it belongs – Oklahoma City.

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