Softball: Pitching staff taking pressure off Northwestern defense

Rebecca Friedman, Reporter

Northwestern has a chance to gain ground in the Big Ten.

Sitting in sixth place with a 5-3 in-conference record, the Wildcats host Iowa in a three-game series this weekend. NU has won six of its last eight and is starting to play with more confidence after a dominating sweep of Illinois last weekend.

The Cats continued their momentum Tuesday by besting Notre Dame in a five-inning, run-rule, come-from-behind victory. NU scored 9 runs in the fifth inning after trailing 3-2 heading into the frame.

“We’ve been hitting awesome,” sophomore pitcher Amy Letourneau said. “We can lean on the fact that if we go behind, we can come up with as many runs as we need.”

NU has made a habit from coming from behind to win games this season. The win over the Fighting Irish is only the latest example of the Cats’ calm in the final innings of a close game. NU is 4-2 when the game is tied after five innings and 3-1 when the game is knotted up after six. In addition, the Cats have won two of their three extra-inning contests.

“When we start out sluggish like that we just have to gather ourselves together and be like, ‘Here we go, one at a time,’” sophomore outfielder Olivia Duehr said.

Defensively, the Cats made 3 errors against the Fighting Irish, but managed to overcome the miscues and keep their heads in the game long enough to come from behind. Coach Kate Drohan said she was not concerned about the errors and said the key for her team was to continue to stay focused on the scheme.

“The key is not panicking and sticking with the game plan,” Drohan said. “It was just a bit of a mental thing and dealing with some of the conditions.”

The Cats have been helped by how well their two pitchers have performed the past week and a half. Letourneau has thrown two no-hitters and given up just 9 runs in her past six starts. The other main starter, senior Meghan Lamberth, threw a complete-game one-hitter in her last start April 6 against Illinois.

Drohan said the team has been aided by the strong pitching staff, and that trust has allowed NU to feel looser in the field.

“Team is very confident with pitchers right now,” Drohan said. “When you have a pitcher that can get a good second out with a strikeout or a pop out it does wonders for your defense.”

Iowa enters the series at 22-15 overall, but has posted an ugly 2-7 record in conference. Drohan said the team cannot worry about the Hawkeyes record and should focus on how potent Iowa can be.

“We know how tough Iowa is,” Drohan said. “They have good pitchers. They are a well coached, scrappy team. We have to play smart. We can’t spot this team three runs, and I think our team is excited for that and ready to go.”

NU seemingly has momentum on its side as it heads into a crucial three-game series with Iowa. Drohan said she likes where her team is but stressed there is still more on which to work.

“I really like where we are right now,” Drohan said. “We have some things we need to improve on. … It’s all about how were playing and our approach and execution, and I have a lot of confidence in that.”