Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Softball: Northwestern sweeps aside rival to earn NCAA berth

After Marisa Bast scored as part of an nine-run fourth inning Saturday, the third baseman let out a roar of relief. When it mattered most, Northwestern had finally played the tenacious softball it was capable of all along.

The Wildcats (27-27, 14-10) sent off their senior class, including first baseman Adrienne Monka, with a dominant three-game sweep of rival Illinois (27-26, 10-14).

“I couldn’t have asked for anything more,” Monka said. “I hadn’t beaten them in my career. To sweep them and send them off on a walk-off run rule on Senior Day … it was awesome.”

All the pieces have come together for a team that appeared lost at times during the season. The NCAA Championships selection committee took note, giving NU an at-large bid to the 64-team event, a feat that seemed improbable less than two weeks ago. To gain eligibility for the postseason, the Cats needed to win their last six games, and they did so with a flourish.

With contributions from everyone on offense, and newfound stability in the circle, NU has played up to its potential.

“We might not have had the greatest season on paper,” Bast said. “But we’re gonna give you a run for your money.”

While hitting only one home run all weekend, NU still managed to win in any way it could. In the first game on Friday, the Cats pulled out a 3-2 victory with a sharp effort from freshman pitcher Amy Letourneau. Later in the day, they posted a school record with eight stolen bases, racing past the Fighting Illini 7-3.

On Saturday, the batting order put the pedal down, using small ball to complete the sweep, 10-2 in six innings. Coach Kate Drohan noted that a variety of players have performed in the clutch.

“Every time I turned around, it was someone new stepping up,” she said. “That balanced attack put together some complete games.”

By the third game of the weekend, Illinois was left searching for a clue. With the Cats up 9-2 in the sixth, sophomore Mari Majam doubled, her fourth hit of the afternoon. Monka approached the plate in what would likely be the last at-bat of her fabled career.

Despite facing an overwhelming deficit, pitcher Jackie Guy intentionally walked Monka, drawing the ire of NU fans.

It seemed fitting for Monka to walk in her final at-bat. Throughout her career, the slugger was pitched around on a regular basis. In her junior campaign, she drew 1.53 walks per game, second in NCAA Division I single-season history. This year, though, her teammates protected her in the lineup. Monka said she was hardly surprised when two batters later, sophomore Sammy Albanese knocked in Majam to seal the run-rule victory.

“I was hoping for some pitches, but the team has been playing great,” she said. “If they had to pitch to anyone in that situation, the game was going to be over anyways.”

Even after a relatively quiet weekend by her standards, Bast capped an incredible breakout season with three RBIs combined.

The sophomore, excelled in the cleanup spot this year, finishing atop the Big Ten in batting average and RBIs, and second in home runs – one dinger away from the conference Triple Crown.

Still, Drohan said the key to the dramatic late-season turnaround was improvement from the pitching staff. Junior Meghan Lamberth displayed incredible command in Saturday’s series finale, walking no one in an efficient 74-pitch complete game. Overall on the weekend, she threw 11 2/3 innings, giving up only two earned runs while striking out five batters.

The Cats have reached their climax at the end of the season, and Drohan suggested the top-ranked non-conference schedule in the nation paid off.

“From the very first game of the season, we were battle tested,” she said. “We hit some bumps along the road, but in the long run, that strengthened us and put us in a position to have the finish that we did.”

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Softball: Northwestern sweeps aside rival to earn NCAA berth