Softball: Northwestern’s Amy Letourneau notches second no-hitter in two weeks in sweep of Illinois

Northwestern pitcher Amy Letourneau threw her second no-hitter in as many weeks in Friday's 8-0 win over Illinois. The sophomore has a team-low 1.66 ERA in 20 appearances in the circle.

Daily file photo by Josh Walfish

Northwestern pitcher Amy Letourneau threw her second no-hitter in as many weeks in Friday's 8-0 win over Illinois. The sophomore has a team-low 1.66 ERA in 20 appearances in the circle.

Josh Walfish, Sports Editor

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Northwestern’s hitters proved over the weekend they can match the dominating efforts of the pitchers.

The Wildcats’ pitching staff held Illinois’ hitters in check for almost the entire weekend, and the lineup showed its might as NU (19-14, 5-3 Big Ten) completed its three-game sweep of the Fighting Illini (11-21, 1-8) at home.

“We had excellent production with all 21 players,” coach Kate Drohan said. “The overall feel of our team was very focused and very hungry, and that’s how you put up big innings.”

The pitching staff shut down the Illinois hitters all weekend, giving up five hits and a single run over the three-game set. Sophomore Amy Letourneau was the most dominant, striking out 16 of the 56 batters she faced while stranding 19 baserunners on base. She also threw her second no-hitter in as many weeks in Friday’s 8-0 win.

Meghan Lamberth was the steadier of the two, issuing no walks and only a single hit during her five-inning win Saturday. Drohan praised the way the senior mixed up her pitches and kept hitters off balance, evidenced by the few fly-ball outs that occurred.

Letourneau’s no-hitter came with bumps in the road. The sophomore walked eight batters and plunked two others Friday while laboring through 128 pitches over the five innings of work. In contrast, she threw 132 in Sunday’s seven-inning contest and Lamberth only tossed 68 Saturday.

“We’re working really hard on controlling my pitches and getting ahead in the count,” Letourneau said. “I’ve been in a lot of (bases-loaded) situations. I don’t get nervous anymore. It actually makes me excited in order to get them out and take the momentum away from them.”

As good as the pitchers were, NU’s hitters were up to the task. After being frustrated during a 1-0 loss to Loyola (Chicago) on Tuesday, the Cats scored 23 runs combined over the weekend with a majority of them coming via the long ball. NU hit six homers over the course of the weekend with junior third baseman Marisa Bast leaving the ballpark both Saturday and Sunday for her eighth and ninth home runs of the season.

“You can’t get frustrated with this game. It’s a quirky little game like that,” Drohan said. “The maturity we showed throughout this series and how tough we were in the batter’s box was just how we wanted our team to respond.”

NU’s biggest threat in the batter’s box proved to be junior Mari Majam. The outfielder went 7-for-9 at the plate, scoring four runs while driving in five runners. Her success stemmed from her ability to find the holes in the defense — whether in her typical role as a slapper or trying to protect the plate with two outs.

Drohan said it was almost impossible to defend Majam over the weekend, as seen in her performance Saturday and Sunday. Majam hit a grand slam Saturday for her first home run of the season but came back Sunday to poke three hits, all of which were delicately placed over the fielder’s head. Majam said it was not hard for her to switch from a slapper’s mentality of getting on base with softer hits to actually hitting for power, like she did before coming to NU.

“I worked a lot on seeing the ball well,” Majam said. “I really wanted to get on base and let the middle of the lineup hit me in … I just want to get the ball in play and sometimes you get the sweet part of the bat.”