Northwestern will head to Las Vegas this weekend to play in the Wilson/DeMarini Desert Classic for the first time in five years.
The Wildcats (2-3) started out well in their opening weekend, winning their first two games with a combined 20 runs before faltering in the stretch, losing to Texas, No. 2 Oregon and California.
In the process, NU gained some key insight about internal expectations.
“We learned a lot about the kind of team we are going to be this year,” junior infielder Andrea Filler said. “This year our team’s not going to have that one person that dominates in every aspect of the game. We are really going to have a solid effort throughout the entire team.”
Coach Kate Drohan echoed Filler’s sentiment, saying NU’s strength this season will be its depth.
“The depth on our team, I think, is like nothing we have ever had here at Northwestern, as far as one through 21,” Drohan said. “It’s really fun to coach.”
NU will be counting on its depth this weekend to carry the team through the tournament, and it will be challenged right away.
The Cats are set to play No. 12 UCLA (4-2) in the first game of the tournament on Friday. The Bruins have relied on junior outfielder Allexis Bennett and senior pitcher/utility player Ally Carda, who is coming into the weekend with a 1.29 ERA and a .400 batting average with 8 RBIs.
The Cats know the game against the Bruins will be an uphill battle, but they are not intimidated by their ranking.
“We’ve had some great games with them in the past,” Drohan said. “Our team’s excited, and we are ready for the opportunity.”
A key cog in the NU offense so far has been senior Andrea DiPrima. Coming off a strong 2014 campaign, DiPrima has been the Cats’ best and most consistent contributor at the plate this season, batting .364 with an impressive .611 on-base percentage and 5 RBIs, which earns her a tie for the team lead. Her continued hot streak will be a crucial element to the team’s success this weekend.
Diversifying the offense might be necessary, though, as Filler, DiPrima and junior catcher/infielder Caylor Arnold alone combined for 14 of the team’s 23 RBIs in the opening weekend.
The Cats have a strong freshman class, and their elders are optimistic that their contributions will be seen soon.
“It’s definitely our job as seniors and having that experience to get the younger girls on board,” DiPrima said. “But they’ve been doing a great job, and I have no doubt that we’ll make the adjustments we’ve been working on.”
In NU’s latter three contests of the weekend, the team will face off against BYU, UNLV and Long Beach State — a trio that averages a robust 5.5 runs per contest.
The pitching of Amy Letourneau and Kristen Wood will then go a long way in determining the Cats’ fate in the back stretch. Despite some early season inconsistencies — Wood is pitching to a 7.00 ERA and Letourneau to a 4.75 — Drohan said both are strong pitchers with great skill sets trying to find consistency.
The Cats could still use a bit of improvement on the defensive side of the ball. With more balance and consistency this weekend, NU could make some noise.
“Our goal is to play hard, and play hard every pitch, be that gritty team that we know we can be,” Drohan said, “I really like the way that our entire team was ready to go, and we’re counting on that this weekend.”
Email: [email protected]