Softball: Northwestern feeling confident for NCAA Tournament run

Senior+pitcher+Sammy+Albanese+slides+into+third+base+during+Northwestern%E2%80%99s+recent+series+against+Michigan+State.+The+Wildcats+now+head+to+Seattle+for+the+opening+round+of+the+NCAA+Tournament.

Brian Lee/Daily Senior Staffer

Senior pitcher Sammy Albanese slides into third base during Northwestern’s recent series against Michigan State. The Wildcats now head to Seattle for the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.

Rebecca Friedman, Reporter

The Wildcats need to practice what they’ve preached all season long: taking each game, pitch-by-pitch and game-by-game.

No. 5 Northwestern fell in the quarterfinals to No. 4 Wisconsin last Friday to knock them out of the Big Ten tournament and put them out of contention for the conference championship. The tournament held special significance for the Cats, who hosted the conference championship in Evanston at Sharon J. Drysdale Field.

However, the Cats did achieve one goal this past weekend, qualifying for one of 32 at-large bids in the NCAA tournament. The Cats face off against Brigham Young University in the first round of the tournament Thursday. BYU is the West Coast Conference champion and has a 15-game winning streak going into the tournament.

No. 12 Washington, who faces off against Iona in its opener, hosts the first round of the tournament, or the Seattle Regional, for the Cats. The winners of the two games will then play  each other, as part of the double-elimination first round. The winner of the Seattle Regional will face off against the winner of the Gainesville regional hosted by No. 5 Florida.

The appearance marks the Cats’ 14th NCAA berth and ninth under coach Kate Drohan. Of the 14 appearances, NU has won its regional tournament four times and has made two trips to the Women’s College World Series. The Cats have a 27-19 overall record in the NCAA postseason.

The last time NU faced BYU was last season during the Mary Nutter tournament, in which the Cats defeated the Cougars in a late-inning 4-1 victory.

One of the highlights of the 2014 season was a 4-2 victory over then-No.3 Washington. If given the chance to face off against the Huskies once again, the Cats have the confidence from the earlier victory. NU has never faced Iona.

However, the Cats aren’t thinking about the possibility of that game. Nor are they thinking about the last game.

The Cats will be putting their 5-4 loss against Wisconsin behind them when they head into the tournament. The devastating victory is not what Drohan wants in the minds of her players when ready to begin what’s been a goal of the team’s all season long. However, Drohan is proud of her team and their play even in the loss.

“I thought our team fought hard. I thought we still kept ourselves in a position to win the ball game and essentially came up one hit short,” she said.

If the Cats can maintain this type of confidence, believing they came up just short but were otherwise equipped to win the game, then they should be prepared when going into the tournament.

The Cats were very dominant at the beginning of the season and struggled a bit toward the end of the Big Ten season against the conference’s tougher opponents. However, the team’s competitive preseason schedule and impressive record definitely helped to prepare them and to capture the NCAA bid.

“We just need to trust our skill set,” senior Emily Allard said after being swept by Ohio State a few weeks ago. “We just need to work and practice. All we need is that belief and that passion.”

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