Softball: Wildcats lose three, but big win fuels optimism

Michael Salik, Reporter


For the Wildcats, wins have been tough to come by. But following a Sunday victory against South Carolina, the team thinks it is only a matter of time before the Ws appear in bunches.

“You could really feel something change in that game,” junior infielder Brianna LeBeau said. “Some things haven’t really been going our way, but I think that was a big strike for us. And I think we’re going to use that momentum to bounce back and rally here.”

Despite the optimism, Northwestern (4-9) struggled again this weekend at the Mary Nutter Classic in Cathedral City, California, dropping its first three games to No. 13 Arizona (11-3), Syracuse (7-8) and No. 14 LSU (16-0), before closing out the tournament with a win over the Gamecocks (11-4).

The Cats kicked off the stretch with a tough matchup against Arizona. Junior pitcher Kristen Wood struggled to find her rhythm on the mound, allowing five earned runs on five hits through only three innings of work. Behind 5-0, NU stormed back in the bottom of the fourth inning, using plate discipline and timely hitting to spark the rally.

After Arizona retook the lead in the top of the sixth, senior infielder Andrea DiPrima came up big for the Cats, lacing a ball off the fence to knot the game at 6-6.

DiPrima is now 10th on the NU all-time doubles list.

But relief pitcher Amy Letourneau, who had done a fabulous job keeping Arizona at bay for the previous three innings, uncorked a wild pitch with two outs in the seventh inning, allowing what would be the game-winning run to cross the plate.

“I think I can pitch better,” the junior said. “Kristen and I are working very well together, but there’s a lot of room for improvement.”

After losing a heartbreaker to Syracuse, in which the tying run was stranded in scoring position in the bottom of the final frame, the Cats were blown out 10-0 by an impressive LSU team.

Desperate for a win, NU faced South Carolina on Sunday.

Wood started the game, giving NU her best outing of the weekend, allowing only one run in four innings of work. But Letourneau did not fare as well in her relief, as she coughed up the lead by giving up three runs in the bottom of the fifth, making the score 4-3.

That’s when LeBeau, who had driven in two runs earlier in the game as a pinch hitter, smoked a three-run blast over the wall in dead center to give the Cats a 6-4 lead they would not relinquish.

Lebeau’s 5 RBIs against the Gamecocks played a massive role in the victory, but so did NU’s ability to evade the big inning.

“Obviously the big innings aren’t ideal and it’s been a problem. But that was one of the things we did great on Sunday, we maintained those innings,” Letourneau said. “In the first inning on Sunday, we gave up a home run but we bounced back and gave up only one run, and we were able to capitalize on that.”

The team remains optimistic following a 1-3 weekend, in part due to the South Carolina performance and in part due to the team’s depth starting to present itself on offense.

Before last weekend, DiPrima and junior infielder Andrea Filler had carried the NU lineup. LeBeau, though, accounted for 5 of 6 RBIs against South Carolina, something she attributed to good adjustments and a combination of teammate tips and her own intuition about what she saw from the Gamecocks pitcher.

Senior infielder Julia Kuhn and freshman outfielder Sabrina Rabin had RBIs against Arizona, and Letourneau drove in a run versus South Carolina.

The offensive diversity is something NU is counting on.

“We have a lot of great players on this team and there’s a lot of new competition within our squad,” LeBeau said. “A lot of new people are playing different positions… We’re prepared whenever our number is called upon.”

The Cats are feeling good after the closing win, and a surge back toward .500 in the near future may not be out of the question.

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