Daily file photo by Meghan White
Despite missing out on a first-round bye with three losses to Michigan this past weekend, fifth-seeded Northwestern is confident heading into the Big Ten Tournament.
As the best seed playing in the first round, NU will face off against Indiana, the No. 12 seeded.
The 2013 tournament marks the first time in five years there will be conference postseason play for Big Ten softball. The Wildcats won the most recent Big Ten Tournament, which took place in Evanston in 2008, before the tournament took a four-year hiatus due to changes in regular season scheduling.
The defending champion Cats face the Hoosiers for the first time this season. Indiana, the last seed in the tournament, finished last in the Big Ten with a 3-19 record in conference.
However, the Cats know not to head into the matchup overly confident.
“It doesn’t matter when we play and who we play,” coach Kate Drohan said. “We’ll take one game at a time.”
NU was solid down the homestretch, stringing together five consecutive wins before facing No. 10 Michigan to close its season. The Wolverines swept the Cats in their three-game series.
However, the Cats know that with losses comes opportunity to improve and learn as a team.
“We are well aware of areas we need to shore up, areas we underachieved this (past) weekend,” Drohan said.
The first area of the game that Drohan addressed was the team’s pitching and how to prepare for the tournament. She wants her pitchers to focus on “executing good pitches.”
The Cats have received stellar pitching from sophomore ace Amy Letourneau all season long but have somewhat struggled with other pitchers in the circle. If NU were to capture the title, it would play four games in four days, creating the possibility Letourneau will start all four contests. However, the Cats will definitely rely on other members of their staff for relief and to give Letourneau a break if needed.
In terms of offense, Drohan emphasized that the team needs to work on its pitch selection. Letourneau said the Cats have to do a better job at making pitchers pay for their mistakes.
“We need to work on attacking the pitchers,” Letourneau said.
Letourneau also highlighted the Cats’ ability to put up huge amounts of runs in one inning and said they can’t forget they have the talent to do so, even if it didn’t necessarily happen against Michigan.
“No inning and no game is over until it’s over,” Letourneau said. “We need to fight until the end.”
Junior third baseman Marisa Bast echoed the importance of instilling this mentality in the team.
“We learned that it’s important to play a complete game,” she said regarding the weekend series.
The Cats’ explosive offense has been their most important tool this season, and to get it going again will be crucial for advancing through the tournament.
The Cats’ offense is also led by Letourneau, whose impressive .475 average in 22 conference games earned her the Big Ten batting title. Letourneau also posted a .514 average over the Cats’ final 25 games this season.
Letourneau was the only player in the lineup who was able to get her bat going against Michigan, smacking a three-run home run in the Cats’ final contest against the Wolverines, a 9-3 loss.
The winner of the Cats’ first round matchup will go on to face No. 4-seeded Wisconsin on Friday. NU lost both its regular-season matchups against the Badgers by a two-run margin.
The Cats are focused on the game in front of them and not trying to get ahead of themselves, despite having a lot of confidence heading into the tournament.
“We just need to focus pitch to pitch,” Bast said. “We’re feeling good and confident. We just need to stay focused and do our job.”