Spring Sports Guide: Softball: Experienced Wildcats set sights on NCAA tournament

Rebecca Friedman, Reporter

With a stacked lineup and a pitching staff with a variety of weapons, Northwestern is poised to compete for a Big Ten title and achieve what they were unable to last season: qualification for the NCAA tournament.

The Wildcats have competed in a variety of tournaments against top teams in the country in order to prepare them for Big Ten competition.

“We’re really confident in how we’re playing,” senior pitcher Sammy Albanese said. “We want momentum going into the Big Ten season.”

Albanese, who pitched a complete game in the Cats’ 4-2 victory over No. 3 Washington on Feb. 21, is a part of a well-staffed pitching unit. 

Sophomore Kristen Wood has been key for NU in the circle, as has junior Amy Letourneau. Freshman Nicole Bond rounds out an impressive staff.

“I really like the way our staff is working,” coach Kate Drohan said. “We have a great chemistry in the staff and I think that makes a big difference. Everyone has different strengths they take to the table, and they’re complementing each other. It’s exciting to see.”

Overall, opponents are batting just .220 against the NU pitchers, who have a combined ERA of 3.42.

Senior catcher Paige Tonz said she has formed a rapport with the pitching staff, especially Albanese, who boasts a 2.92 ERA in 26 1/3 innings.

“We work really well together,” Tonz said. “We think about pitches in the same way. We’re on the same page in terms of pitch calling.”

Albanese attributes much of the success of the pitchers not only to impressive run support, but also to the solid defensive play of the Cats.

“I’m excited to see how the team has persevered through tough innings and tough games,” she said. “We’re looking good defensively and scoring a lot of runs offensively, and that makes it easy on pitchers.”

The Cats’ offense has been arguably the team’s strongest asset so far. The team is getting production up and down the lineup, making it hard for the coaching staff to even determine who to bat and where.

“We’re just trying to get as many people at bats as we can,” Drohan said. “We’re good to need everyone down the stretch. We’ve faced some really good pitchers and had good at bats. Offense is our strength right now.”

Still, the Cats realize what they can improve in order to be even more effective at the plate.

Defensively, the Cats have had periods of perfection but have also had lapses and demonstrated there still is room for improvement.

The experience on the roster has allowed NU to spend its offseason practicing specific situations and polishing the team’s play in these situations. However, both Tonz and Albanese attribute defensive effectiveness to a good team mentality.

“When we hit a bump in the road we just need to work through it,” Tonz said. “We just need to stay strong mentally and overcome adversity.”

Albanese also mentioned there is room for defensive improvement in certain situations, such as bunt defense.

However, after a 10-4 start in the first three tournaments of the season, the feeling in the NU locker room is positive, and the Cats have confidence heading into their final two tournaments and the conference season.

“We’ve been doing really well in preseason,” Albanese said. “There’s really good competition in conference, and we always want to come out with a championship. We’re taking it one pitch at a time, but it’s good that we’re playing these good teams tough.”

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